'These guys are not scared': Cards confident as Game 5 beckons

News-DemocratOctober 8, 2013 

Cards starter Adam Wainwright talks Tuesday about his Game 5 start against Pittsburgh. In Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS in Washington, Wainwright fell behind 6-0 before the Cards rallied to win 9-7.

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Big game? Big deal. Bring it on.

There are no guarantees in baseball, but believe this: The St. Louis Cardinals will not be faint of heart when they face the Pittsburgh Pirates in a deciding Game 5 of the NL Division Series Wednesday night.

Win, and the Los Angeles Dodgers come to town for Game 1 of the NLCS Friday.

Lose, and the Cardinals' remarkable season comes to an end long before it should.

Not that anybody wearing a red hat is thinking that way this day.

"These guys are not scared," said Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who gets the ball for Game 5. "We know we can compete with anyone. We have a solid nucleus, we have a great pitching staff."

And they have an uncanny knack for winning when it counts most:

The Cardinals are 7-1 in elimination games the last three postseasons, including their 2-1 win in Game 4 Monday in Pittsburgh.

Think about that a moment: Eight times since 2011, this group of players has taken the field for a playoff game knowing a loss would end the season. Seven times, they've found a way to win.

With that on the team resume, Cards manager Mike Matheny knows what approach his players will take to yet another game played on the brink.

"They (will) show up like it's another day," the Cardinals manager said after a brief team workout at Busch Stadium. "It's another special day, to go out and show what you've got. I think when you put those levels of expectations there, and you have those consistent examples of how to do it, you're primed to have a good chance.

"Now, does that necessarily turn into success? No. It comes down to execution, which we all know. But I believe you have a better shot at doing it on a consistent basis if you take that route all season."

Such has been the Cards' approach: Work hard, take good at-bats, make the best pitches you can, and then -- win or lose -- turn the page. And do it again the next day. Again and again and again, for a month in spring training, six months in the regular season, and however far your talent can take you in October.

"That philosophy is easy to talk about, but it's hard to put into play," Matheny said. "You need veteran leadership from the pitching staff and from the position players ... where players can see it. Our coaching staff has done a very good job of that, of being the same people every day.

"Just like it will be when we show up tomorrow. You can tell when a team walks into a clubhouse. We saw it in Pittsburgh and I anticipate seeing it tomorrow."

If anything, games on the brink bring out the best in these Birds: Their 7-1 record in elimination games since 2011 includes two scintillating wins for St. Louis in the last two Game 5s in the NLDS -- two years ago in Philadelphia, and last year in Washington.

* Exactly two years and one day ago, Cards ace Chris Carpenter won a 1-0 duel with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, a complete-game masterpiece won by the Redbirds on the Phils' home field.

* Exactly 361 days ago, the Cardinals came back to defeat Washington 9-7 in shocking fashion, scoring four times in the ninth -- after rallying from a 6-0 deficit in the third inning -- in the nation's capital.

That effort comes as no surprise from a group that takes pride in playing hard from the first pitch to the final out, no matter the outcome.

"The consistency and expectations start early in the season: How are you going to go about your business?" Matheny said. "You've been training yourself all spring and all season to be prepared for these games. And how you do that is you do the exact same thing all the time. You've got no regrets that way.

"And then, once you get to the stage we're all at, you're not going to be surprised, you're not going to be shell-shocked, you're not going to be wondering what you need to do."

Big game? Big deal. Bring it on.

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since their playoff run in 1985. He can be reached at (618) 239-2512, or at jostermeier@bnd.com

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