Win or go home.
That is what the Cardinals faced in Wednesday night's National League Division Series Game 5 against the Pirates at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis didn't disappoint its sellout crowd (47,231) as David Freese and Matt Adams each had a two-run homer and Adam Wainwright threw a complete game, shutting down the Pirates' offense on the way to a 6-1 victory to advance to the National League Championship Series.
"Somebody asked me would I like closing or starting better," Wainwright said. "In my mind, if you pitch the game, you should be your own closer. Going out today there was no way I was even looking back at Mike (Matheny) at the end of that game. I wanted that game. I'm so thankful he trusted me there at the end."
Wainwright was who Cardinals' skipper Mike Matheny wanted out there the whole time.
"We will take him on the mound any day, especially in a big situation," Matheny said. "I love the fact that everybody kept asking him about Game 5 last year, because I knew that was just bringing more to the table, if you could even do that."
St. Louis got to Pittsburgh's starter Gerrit Cole early.
With two out in the bottom of the second, Jon Jay worked a walk. That brought up Freese and the Cardinals' version of Mr. October did not let the team down. Freese crushed a 1-2 pitch into the Pirates' bullpen to give St. Louis an early 2-0 lead. Freese's seventh career postseason home run went an estimated 383 feet.
"It was huge," Freese said. "Especially in a game like this. To score early against a tough pitcher that shut us down last time, that was what we needed to do."
Cole was replaced to start the sixth and the Cardinals quickly jumped on reliever Justin Wilson.
With one out, Matt Holliday singled and advanced to second on Yadier Molina's two-out walk. Jon Jay came to the plate and singled up the middle to give St. Louis a 3-0 lead and drive Wilson from the game.
Pittsburgh finally got on the board in the top of the seventh with the help of two infield hits and a bad hop past Adams at first.
With two outs, Justin Morneau singled and advanced to second on Marlon Byrd's single. Pedro Alvarez then singled just past Adams to score Morneau. Matt Carpenter made a diving play that prevented extra bases and possibly more runs. The Cardinals answered back with three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Beltran opened with a pop out to short followed by a Holliday single. Adams came to the plate and on the first pitch, the Cardinals' big first baseman crushed a two-run shot to right, 408-feet to put the Cardinals up 5-1.
"Mark (Melancon) is a great pitcher and he loves that cutter," Adams said. So I had to be ready for that, just tell him to get a good pitch that I could get the barrel on. The atmosphere as I was rounding the bases (was) unbelievable. We've got the best fans in baseball here."
Later in the inning, Pete Kozma, who is not known for his bat, came up with a big two-out single to plate Jay and put the Redbirds' up 6-1.
"It felt great," Kozma said. "Just to get five runs up and get away from that grand slam, we needed it."
The Cardinals' defense came up with some huge plays early in the game.
"It's huge," Kozma said of the defense. "You saw when (Pedro) Alvarez threw that ball away. You make one mistake and it can go anywhere from there."
In the top of the second, Byrd got a leadoff single. With the shift on for Alvarez, Carpenter came up with a line drive catch and flipped the ball to Adams at first to double up Bryd. In the fourth, Neil Walker had what looked like a single up the middle, but Kozma came out of nowhere to catch the ball for out nunber one. After a grounder to Freese, Kozma closed the inning out with another stellar defensive play to retire Morneau.
"Carpenter was playing back," Kozma said. "So I had to cover a lot of room to get over there.
"I didn't expect (Morneau) to hit the ball that far over (to the third base side)," Kozma continued. "I thought Freese was gonna get it, but I had to bust it to get over there to get him."
Matheny praised Kozma's defense.
"Pete's a solid defender," Matheny said. "I don't think people give him the credit he deserves for the kind of player that he is."
After his second inning hit, Wainwright didn't give up another hit until the sixth when Clint Barmes singled to open the frame. After pinch hitter Garrett Jones flew out, Wainwright got Starling Marte to hit it back to Kozma who turned an inning ending 6-4-3 double play.
"Pete (Kozma) was amazing today," Wainwright said. "His defense was great. He struggled some at the plate this year and we trusted him and kept throwing him out there because he's defensively very, very good."
Wainwright was helped by another double play in the eighth. Pinch hitter Jordy Mercer singled with one out but was erased on a stellar double play by Carpenter. The Cardinals second baseman snared a line drive and then flipped it to Adams at first to retire Mercer in a very close play to end the eighth.
On the mound, Wainwright did what needed to be done.
"I've got to put it right up there with the most fun and one of the greatest moments of my career so far, no doubt," Wainwright said of his performance. "Just incredibly blessed to be here today, to be able to pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt."
The Cardinals' ace struck out six and walked just one while throwing 107 pitches. At one point, Wainwright retired 11 straight hitters. Wainwright scattered eight hits, three of which came in the seventh.
The Cardinals will open the NLCS on Friday night at Busch Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"We will be looking forward to that Dodgers series," Matheny said. "I know they have got a strong club too. Everybody we're going to see, anybody you see from here on out this time of year, they are going to be very well rounded, and they've got the pitching and obviously an explosive offense."
Wainwright pitches Cardinals past Pirates in NLDS clincher
Win or go home.