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.
“We weren’t happen [to be down], because we know who [Lee] is, how he pitches, the team he plays in front of,” said Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa. “But we keep things real simple. We just are going to play nine [innings] come hell or high water.”
On August 27, the computer-simulation Web site coolstandings.com gave the Cardinals a 1.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, yet they caught and passed the Atlanta Braves on the season’s final day to win the wild card. Their odds of winning Sunday night’s game at the end of three innings were not quite so steep, but trailing four runs to one of the best pitchers of this generation, the Cardinals faced another monumental task.
“Had it been in the seventh or eighth inning, I think it would have been a different story,” said Cardinals second baseman Ryan Theriot, who hit two doubles and scored two runs against Lee. “But it was early in the game. At that point we had a lot of outs to give. Plenty of time.”
When Lee walked Lance Berkman to lead off the top of the fourth, it was an ominous sign for the 33-year-old lefty. In his last three starts of the regular season, covering 22 innings, Lee didn’t issue a single walk. But now, he had issued two in a span of three batters, and the Berkman walk spiraled into a three-run inning for the Cardinals that pulled them to within 4-3. Only a pinpoint throw to the plate by Phillies left fielder Raul Ibanez on Rafael Furcal’s single — and a tough non-fumble by catcher Carlos Ruiz, who held onto the ball despite being hammered by base runner Jon Jay — preserved the slim lead.
An inning later, though, when another fine throw home from Ibanez, on a single by Jay, was just a little high, the game was tied. And an inning after that, when Allen Craig tripled off Shane Victorino’s glove in center field, and Pujols singled him home, Lee and the Phillies were suddenly trailing, 5-4.