Jason Motte (center) and the Cards bullpen came up huge in the NLCS. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

But in a back and forth National League Championship Series that saw the team’s starters falter, the St. Louis bullpen was the difference.

In Sunday’s decisive Game 6, five Cardinals relievers combined for seven innings of two-run, three-hit ball to help carry St. Louis to a 12-6 victory in Milwaukee and another trip to the World Series.

The St. Louis bullpen was tremendous throughout the series — and it needed to be. Cardinals starters lasted an average of fewer than 4 1/3 innings, forcing the tinker-happy Tony La Russa to go to his relievers early and often. In 24 2/3 innings of work over the six-game series, St. Louis relievers allowed only four runs — good for a 1.46 ERA.

Closer Jason Motte nailed down the final three outs on Sunday, continuing a perfect postseason in which he has yet to allow a run over eight innings while striking out seven and walking none.

Said Motte of La Russa’s numerous calls to the bullpen during the series: “He’s a genius, isn’t he?”

David Freese earned series MVP honors after tallying 12 hits, three home runs and nine RBI in the series, but was quick to credit the bullpen for bailing the Cardinals out night after night.

“I wish we could make eight or nine of these and give them to our bullpen,” Freese said. “They’re the reason why we won this series.”

There’s no question the Cards will need more from their starters against a Texas Rangers lineup that may be the best in baseball. There’s also no question that La Russa won’t hesitate yank a pitcher early, knowing how big his bullpen has been in the playoffs.