ST. LOUIS — David Freese has repeatedly been asked to reveal his secret to postseason success.
Freese, the St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman, can only shake his head and try to answer the question.
"You just try to stay focused and relaxed," a champagne-soaked Freese said Wednesday night after his two-run homer was the opening salvo in the Cardinals' 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh in the deciding Game 5 of their National League Division Series.
"You just play the game. You play hard and hope you come through," Freese continued. "It was big to get the early lead, especially with 'Waino' (Adam Wainwright) on the mound and against a tough team like Pittsburgh. To score early was definitely something both sides wanted to do."
Freese's seventh career postseason home run came on a 1-2 slider from Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole and put St. Louis on top 2-0. The 383-foot drive landed in the Pittsburgh bullpen and delighted the capacity crowd of 47,231 --most of them waving white towels.
Freese, who has 29 RBIs in 36 postseason games, smacked five homers and produced 21 RBIs in 18 playoffs games in 2011.
"David killed that ball," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was nice to see. You could see how fired up he was and how fired up our bench was. Adam, you could tell he had his good stuff, and we were all hopeful it would be enough. And it fortunately was."
Matt Adams added his first career postseason homer, a two-run shot in the ninth against Mark Melancon, and Jon Jay and Pete Kozma chipped in with RBI singles in support of Wainwright.
Wainwright, who threw his first postseason complete game, allowed one run on eight hits, walked one and struck out six.
"In my mind, I'm thinking, 'That's all we need,'" Wainwright said of Freese'e early homer. "I was very confident."
The Cardinals advanced to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Game 1 will be Friday at Busch Stadium, with the start time to be announced. St. Louis was 3-4 against the Dodgers in the regular season.
"They're a good team, man," Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran said. "They've really invested in a lot of guys who are good players. It's going to be a good battle; it's going to be a good series."
Jay worked a tough two-out walk against Cole in the second that paid off when Freese homered. Jay provided breathing room for Wainwright in the sixth with an single up the middle against Justin Wilson that opened a 3-0 lead.
The Pirates got within 3-1 against Wainwright on three infield singles with two outs in the seventh. Pedro Alvarez's hit caromed off first base and rolled behind first baseman Adams.
Carpenter, rushing to back up the play, dived and was able to corral the ball on the line, but he threw late and off-target to Wainwright covering first, allowing Morneau to score.
The Cardinals ran away in the eighth as Adams' two-run homer made it 5-1 and Kozma's infield hit against Jason Grilli scored Jay and made it 6-1.
Wainwright retired 11 in a row until Clint Barmes singled to lead off the sixth. One out later, Barmes was erased when Starling Marte hit into a 6-4-3 double play --one of three turned by the Cardinals.
St. Louis' other two double plays were of the 4-3 variety, as Marlon Byrd in the second and Jordy Mercer in the eighth were doubled off first base on line drives to second baseman Matt Carpenter.
Kozma made two stellar defensive plays in the third. He first dived to his left, behind second base, to rob Walker of a single. Two batters later, he ranged far to his right to field Morneau's grounder, then easily threw out Morneau at first.
"Petey made some great plays," Matheny said. "We've been real impressed with how he goes about it. He's a special defender. He doesn't get enough credit for how good he is defensively."
The Cardinals failed to capitalize on a scoring chance in the fourth when Adams singled to left and Molina reached on an infield single.
Both runners advanced when third baseman Alvarez threw wildly past first. But Jay hit a grounder to second baseman Walker, who was playing in, and Adams was thrown out at the plate as Molina took third. Freese was then caught looking at strike three.
Cole lasted five innings, allowing two runs (earned) on three hits. He walked one and struck out five.
"I thought he pitched a very professional game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
"We tip our hats to the Cardinals. I think this rivalry has turned into something that baseball can be proud of. It's become a rivalry for all the right reasons. Professional respect, the way the game is played, the effort. They beat a very good team."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.