Pitchers are a unique breed of athlete. Their position is as much psychological as physical, their ability to perform beholden to as many mental factors as bodily ones. Even in the toughest of circumstances -- a winner-take-all playoff game, for example -- the best are able to sweep aside the emotional clutter and calmly do their job.
"I don't get a whole lot of nerves when I pitch,” St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright said after last night’s game. “Before I pitched today, I was pretty nervous."
Wainwright was able to steady his nerves and pitch a masterful complete game as the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 in game 5 of the NLDS last night and now move on to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in St. Louis’ third consecutive National League Championship Series appearance.
If the past three years have taught baseball fans nothing else, it’s that the Cardinals are clutch. St. Louis is now 8-1 in elimination games since 2011, including three straight wins in game 5 of the NLDS. Most of the credit for the third goes to Wainwright, who gave up eight hits but just one run, as the Cardinals were able to get six outs with double plays in the second, sixth and eighth innings.
Veteran Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, who threw a complete game for St. Louis in the 2011 postseason, reflected on seeing Wainwright develop into the type of pitcher that could achieve the same feat two years later.
"To watch him grow from a young kid to what he's doing right now, I couldn't be happier," Carpenter said. "It's almost like seeing my son grow up. I mean, I know he's not my son's age. But that's what it's like. It's just been so much fun to be a part of, and so much fun to watch him do what he does. He sets a standard, no question. He sets a standard for this organization."
With Wainwright dealing, the Cardinals didn’t need much from their offense to secure the win. Hometown hero David Freese hit a two-run homer in the second inning to get St. Louis on the board. Freese epitomizes the Cardinals knack for coming through under pressure, as he’s hit .360 and has three HRs in elimination games, the most in franchise history.
St. Louis added to their lead with a run in the sixth, and put it away with Matt Adams’ two-run shot in the eighth.
For the Pirates, whose remarkable run to the 2013 MLB Playoffs in baseball’s toughest division marked their first postseason appearance in over two decades, the elimination loss was stinging after they built a 2-1 series lead.
"Our goal has always been to be the last team celebrating on the mound at the end of the year," Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez said. "That was cut short for us this year. All we can do now is continue to work hard and work as a unit, as a team, and keep growing together."
With the Cardinals remarkable three-year playoff run despite the toughest of circumstances, Pittsburgh had a front row seat on Wednesday to see what a little time and growth can turn into.
Game one of the National League Championship Series starts on Friday in St. Louis.