'Just incredibly blessed': Old hands give Cards another October triumph

News-DemocratOctober 10, 2013 

The Cardinals celebrate their NLDS Game 5 win over Pittsburgh Wednesday night.

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It's almost as if they've done this before. And of course they have.

The St. Louis Cardinals found their way to another postseason triumph on Wednesday. And they have a couple of old October hands -- Adam Wainwright and David Freese -- to thank for that.

Wainwright, who as a closer threw the last pitch of the Cards' 2006 World Series win over Detroit, notched the first complete-game postseason victory of his career. He allowed one run on eight hits, striking out six.

"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. "(I'm) just incredibly blessed to be here today, to be able to start that game in the first place.

"But to pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life."

Freese, the World Series and National League Championship Series hero of the Cards' 2011 title run, added to his lengthy list of October exploits with a two-run homer with two out in the second inning.

"It was big, it was obviously a great feeling," said Freese, who has seven postseason homers the last three years, but had only nine in the regular season this year. "A frustrating year a little bit, but just to get this far and to get to the NLCS is awesome.

"It's going to be a blast, it's going to be fun. St. Louis and L.A. going at it. Obviously, they're a great team. You know, it's going to be huge. It's going to be a lot of fun."

That series starts Friday, pitting two of the proudest National League franchises, steeped in history and playoff lore.

Wainwright added to that postseason mythos Wednesday night, capping his night with a sprint to the mound to start the ninth. Obviously tiring, he gave up two hits with two outs, but the crowd stood and cheered and chanted "Wain-o, Wain-o, Wain-o," before he fanned Pedro Alvarez for the last out of the series.

"Those big moments like that, that's just something that pitchers dream of," said Wainwright, who signed a five-year, $97.5 million contract extension to remain with the Cardinals during spring training this year. "Yadier (Molina), I almost didn't want to let go of Yadier. I was so happy to be there. I'm so happy he's my catcher.

"That's why I signed back here. There's no amount of money worth what this city and this team means to me. I'm honored, I'm privileged, I don't deserve any of this."

For good measure, another Cardinals playoff hero -- Pete Kozma, one of the many co-authors of their comeback win in Washington in Game 5 of last year's NLDS -- lent his hand to the Wednesday win.

He ranged far, far, to his left to snare Neil Walker's soft liner on the other side of second base in the fourth inning, then followed that with a sparkling grab and throw to retire Justin Morneau to end the inning.

Oh, and this, too: He singled home the third and final insurance run in a three-run eighth, cementing yet another playoff win for the Redbirds.

"I don't think people give him the credit he deserves for the kind of player that he is," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Kozma, who made just nine errors at short during the year but saw his average take a year-long slide down to .217. "Unfortunately, we've had to limit (his) time just trying to get his bat going, and that's a defensive position.

"We love having him out there."

Ditto for Wainwright, who was simply scintillating as he gave the Cards their third straight NLDS Game 5 victory going back to 2011.

As tired as he was -- he threw 104 pitches, most of them with the Cardinals clinging to a narrow lead before a three-run eighth blew the game wide open -- Wainwright was determined to be on the mound for the game's last pitch.

"In my mind, if you pitch the game you should be your own closer," Wainwright said. "Going out today, there was no way I was even looking back at Mike (Matheny) at the end of that game.

"I wanted that game. I'm so thankful he trusted me there at the end."

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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