St. Louis tops Pirates in Game 5
ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright threw his 107th pitch Wednesday night and jumped off the mound, both fists thrust high in the air.
The St. Louis Cardinals' ace and his pressure-proof teammates survived a challenge from the season's feel-good team and advanced to their third consecutive National League Championship Series.
Going the distance on an eight-hitter, Wainwright scored his second win of the NL Division Series as St. Louis eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 in Game 5 at sold-out Busch Stadium.
Wainwright walked one and fanned six, getting Pedro Alvarez with his patented 12-to-6 curveball to end Pittsburgh's first postseason appearance in 21 years. The Cardinals will host the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night in Game 1 of the NLCS.
"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. "To pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt."
It was a 180-degree turn from the last time Wainwright took the mound for a Game 5. Last year in Washington, Wainwright was knocked out of the box after allowing six runs to the Nationals in 2 1/3 innings, although his teammates got him off the hook by rallying for a 9-7 win.
There would be no such dramatics this time. After getting away with some pitches up in the zone early, Wainwright found his rhythm in the middle innings and denied the Pirates at almost every turn.
"Hearing that talk about what happened to him last year in Game 5 gave him a little bit of an edge," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Once he took the mound, I saw that he had his stuff. That's the guy we want on the mound."
Wainwright received offensive support that included a pair of two-run homers. David Freese lined a hanging slider from Gerrit Cole over the left field wall in the bottom of the second to open the scoring, while Matt Adams jacked his first postseason bomb in the eighth after a Matt Holliday single. Adams' blast gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead.
For Freese, the 2011 World Series Most Valuable Player who struggled through a disappointing 2013 season, hitting .262 with just nine homer and 60 RBIs, the long ball supplied salve.
"It was obviously a great feeling," he said. "We were really fortunate to get on the board early."
Cole, the rookie right-hander who shackled St. Louis in a 7-1 win in Game 2, allowed just three hits and two runs in five innings, but he was tagged with the loss. The defeat stopped Pittsburgh's first playoff run since 1992, when the Pirates suffered a heartbreaking Game 7 NLCS loss to the Braves in Atlanta.
"We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and rebonding our city with a ball team," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've worked their backsides off this year."
Alvarez's RBI hit in the seventh -- the last of three consecutive two-out infield singles -- drew Pittsburgh within 3-1. However, on the next pitch, Russell Martin hit an inning-ending forceout.
The Pirates' last realistic hope ended in the eighth on their third double play, a Starling Marte lineout to second baseman Matt Carpenter. Jordy Mercer was called out by umpire Paul Nauert as he tried to get back to first.
Wainwright wasn't letting anyone stop him from finishing this one, sprinting to the mound for the ninth and never giving Matheny a look after allowing back-to-back, two-out singles.
"Every time we turned around," Hurdle said, "Wainwright got in the way tonight."