Certainly, they would have preferred to close out this National League Division Series at their earliest opportunity. But following their 2-1 loss to the Nationals, there was little left for them to do but prepare for Friday’s win-or-go-home showdown. So when posed with questions about how they would find a way to put this latest loss behind them and regroup, the Cardinals responded with measured responses and piercing glances.
High-stakes contests are nothing new to these Cardinals. The defending champions will handle it the same way this group, brimming with experience, always has. They would relish the pressure.
“I just think we have a team that is experienced,” said pitcher Adam Wainwright, who will start Game 5. “This core group of guys has been put with their backs against the wall numerous times and always responded well. In that case, I would say the experience helps but we have a professional group of guys that show up ready to play a game every day it doesn’t matter what happened the day before.”
Of the projected starters for Friday’s decisive Game 5, seven – Wainwright, outfielders Jon Jay and Matt Holliday, first baseman Allen Craig, catcher Yadier Molina, third baseman David Freese and second baseman Daniel Descalso – have at least one World Series ring.
En route to their 2011 championship the Cardinals developed a reputation for thriving in pressure-rich environments, making a furious September rally to pass Atlanta on the final day of the regular season, then winning four elimination games in the postseason.
This year, things have played out in a similar fashion. St. Louis didn’t punch its ticket to the playoffs until the penultimate game of the regular season and then won the NL wild-ard contest against Atlanta in order to advance and face the Nationals.
The Cardinals are quick to point out, though, that they don’t intend to bask in the glow of their previous victories. Rather, they view their experience as a tool to maintain composure and keep nerves in check when every out matters.
“When you speak of experience, obviously it helps but this year is a new year,” said Craig, who is 6 for 15 with a home run through four games against the Nationals. “We’re gonna have to find another way to do this. We can’t always rely on what we did last year. There’s definitely some things that we can look back on to help, but tomorrow’s a new day and we’ve got to get it done.”
This won’t be the first time in this series the Cardinals needed to respond after a disappointing outing, either. St. Louis dropped Game 1 after squandering a stellar, 10-strikeout start by Wainwright but responded with consecutive wins in which it outscored the Nationals 20-4.
Manager Mike Matheny insisted that his team would have no different reaction to this latest disappointing outcome.
“We’ve had a very large amount of heartbreakers this year, and I think that’s really been used to develop the character of this team and the resiliency,” Matheny said. “These guys realize that we’ve got an opportunity to come back and play another game. They do shed it pretty quick. So it’s a tough one, but still alive to play another game.”
More on the Nats-Cardinals NLDS:
Box score: Nationals 2, Cardinals 1
Boswell: As good, and as real, as it gets
Nats grid: Social media feed