When the St. Louis Cardinals completed their miraculous run to win the National League wild-card race, two of the biggest takeaways were the Braves’ remarkable meltdown and the Phillies’ fast-pass into the NLCS.
Early in Game 2 on Sunday night, it appeared Philadelphia’s wealth of aces would be too much for the Cardinals to match. But these birds are a plucky bunch and Sunday’s result showed they’re not satisfied just making the playoffs.
Here’s a quick synopsis from Dave Sheinin’s game story:
“Rip the game right out of Cliff Lee’s powerful grip? Shut down the Phillies’ offense with six one-hit innings from your bullpen? Silence the largest crowd, 46,575 strong, in the history of Citizens Bank Park? And turn the NLDS, in effect, into a best-of-three series in which the Cardinals hold home-field advantage? The Cardinals did all those things in an improbable 5-4 victory that sent the series back to St. Louis tied at a game apiece.”
Anyone questioning St. Louis’ desire to compete in this series need only listen to the massive home-plate collision between John Jay and Carlos Ruiz as the Cardinals pulled to within 4-3 in the fourth inning. Philly’s catcher, doing his best brick wall impersonation, got the out, but Jay’s aggressiveness kept the momentum going for the Cardinals into the later innings.
(Here’s the video on MLB.com)
“It's the playoffs, we're not going to quit,” Jay said. “We played hard, we fought hard and we came back and were able to win.”
With Lee under siege, the Cardinals’ bullpen was nearly flawless, throwing six shutout innings capped by Jason Motte’s one-two-three ninth to close out the victory. And as always, manager Tony La Russa didn’t hesitate to use every one of his arms. In the eighth inning he used four different pitchers against four batters.
Both Lee and Cards starter Chris Carpenter — who lasted just three innings following his two-hit shutout in Wednesday’s wild-card clinching win — took issue with plate umpire Jerry Meals’ strike zone and La Russa criticized the inconsistency during the broadcast.
Still one of the top arms in the game, Sunday’s loss offered further proof that Lee is not the unbeatable postseason wizard he once was. The lefty has now lost three straight starts — including Games 1 and 5 of the 2010 World Series for Texas — after starting his playoff career with a 7-0 record and 1.26 ERA.
The series shifts to St. Louis on Tuesday night where the Phillies will trot out ace No. 3, Cole Hamels, against Jaime Garcia. Hamels is enjoying a career year but lost his only start against the Cardinals this year three weeks ago when he gave up four runs in seven innings in a 5-0 defeat.
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