Even before they had completed their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason began.
The San Francisco Giants claimed the National League’s second wild-card berth with a no-doubt-about-it 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.
San Francisco erupted for two runs in the first and three more in the second against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda. Los Angeles was within 5-1 in the fourth when Joc Pederson flied out to deep center with two runners aboard. From that point, the Giants were in firm control.
The Giants will face the New York Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday at Citi Field in New York, with the winner advancing to the NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.
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The Cardinals, despite going 5-2 in their final homestand and closing with four consecutive victories, missed the postseason for the first time since 2010. It’s the first time manager Mike Matheny, in his fifth season, has missed the playoffs.
“There’s no disappointment in winning the last four games,” Matheny said after his team defeated Pittsburgh 10-4 behind a 13-hit barrage. “I was waiting for our best run, and we started to put it together. You talk about who’s that hot team, and we had the makings of that. I guarantee you there are teams out there that are plenty happy the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t continuing to play.”
Matheny might not have been disappointed in the Cardinals, but seeing the Giants take control early in their game against Los Angeles was a tough pill to swallow. As long as San Francisco held the lead, the Cardinals were swimming upstream, trying to maintain optimism the Dodgers could rally.
No help was forthcoming, however, and the Cardinals’ hopes of facing the Giants in a tiebreaker Monday at Busch Stadium were dashed.
“You heard some rumblings (in the dugout),” Matheny said referring to the Giants grabbing a 5-0 lead. “But that’s a team that’s had trouble holding leads. That was said a time or two. Keep playing the game. That was really our focus. Take care of our own business. We did. The guys played very well today.
“But that’s the danger when you get down to this and it’s not in our hands anymore because it truly was dependent on another team. We couldn’t help but look up there (at the scoreboard). That didn’t necessarily lighten the mood, but the job remained the same.”
The Cardinals led 10-4 in the middle of the eighth inning when the Dodgers-Giants final score was posted. The fans, already sensing the end of the postseason dream given that the Giants had such a big lead, soaked up the final inning by offering a final salute to Matt Holliday and saying good-bye to the appreciative players as they lingered on the field for several minutes.
St. Louis finished the season 86-76. Sunday marked the first time in 10 attempts this season that the Cardinals reached 10 games over .500.
The Cardinals fell behind the idle Giants by one game in the wild-card standings Monday with a 15-2 loss to Cincinnati. Both the Cardinals and Giants played the next six days, and both had the same results in each game.
Holliday did not pinch-hit Sunday as he did Friday when he homered and Saturday when he singled, but he jogged into left field as the Pirates prepared to bat in the ninth. His teammates stayed behind in front of the dugout as the sellout crowd of 44,615 roared. Holliday, visibly moved, acknowledged the crowd with waves before, seemingly embarrassed, he motioned for his teammates to join him on the field.
After Dean Kiekhefer made one pitch to the Pirates’ first hitter in the ninth, Jason Rogers, Tommy Pham replaced Holliday, who shared a brief hug with first baseman Matt Carpenter before returning to the dugout.
“I just really appreciate it,” Holliday said. “I’ve given everything I had and I’ve tried to play the game the right way. I love the organization and I’m really proud of a lot of the things we were able to accomplish in my time here. It does feel good, for people to appreciate who I am.”
Matheny had earlier heard the fans chanting “Holl-i-day! Holl-i-day!” and began brainstorming with his coaches about ways to get Holliday involved. Hitting was not an option since his right thumb, still sore from being broken in August, was swelled up after Holliday was jammed by a pitch Saturday.
“I didn’t have a master plan,” Matheny said. “Really, what instigated that was the response of the fans. ... As the fans kept going and you could see how badly they wanted to at least see him, we tried to figure out how. It was between Mabes (John Mabry), David Bell and myself.
“It was another shot for the fans to make another special memory, and they didn’t disappoint.”
Adam Wainwright got a no-decision. He allowed two runs (earned) on six hits in six innings, with three walks and eight strikeouts and finished 13-9. The Cardinals trailed 2-1 in the sixth, but Carpenter’s three-run homer against Antonio Bastardo on a 3-0 pitch made it 4-2.
Pittsburgh tied it on a two-run homer by John Jaso against Jonathan Broxton in the seventh, but St. Louis tucked away the win with a six-run seventh highlighted by Randal Grichuk’s two-run double.
30 for Gyorko
Jedd Gyorko’s career-high 30 home runs came in just 400 at-bats. Gyorko’s production was one of the most plesant surprises of the season.
“It’s a lot of fun to play here at Busch,” Gyorko said. “I look forward to playing quite a few more games here. The numbers are what they are. I’ll relax for a little bit before I really start to look at the season as a whole and look back on what’s happened.”
Matheny credited Gyorko for his everyday approach.
“It’s impressive what Jedd has been able to do, and how he’s handled the different roles,” Matheny said. “There were times where he was going well, hitting a bunch of home runs. Next thing you know, he’s not even in the lineup.
“There wasn’t one time I saw this guy in a negative frame of mind. He was always ready. That’s truly his personality. It’s a selfless approach that wants to win that makes him a great addition to this club.”
Gyorko played all four infield positions. Matheny said he could even envision Gyorko playing catcher in an emergency. He did not endorse Gyorko as an outfield candidate.
“There for a while, he was going to be our emergency guy (at catcher),” Matheny said of a role that was filled largely by Greg Garcia. “I don’t know about (the outfield). He potentially could. Just the ability to cover ground might be a stretch, but I wouldn’t put it past him. For a good bat, you’ll do just about anything.”
Yadier Molina led the Cardinals in average (.307), hits (164) and doubles (38). It was the fifth time in Molina’s career that he hit over .300, and his hit total was a career-high.
Other leaders in major offensive categories were Stephen Piscotty in runs scord (86) and RBIs (85), Gyorko in homers (30) and Carpenter in walks (81) and triples (six).
Carlos Martinez led the pitching staff with 16 wins and 174 strikeouts, and his 3.04 ERA was the lowest among the rotation. Wainwright led the staff in innings with 198 2/3. Rookie Seung Hwan Oh topped the team with 19 saves.
St. Louis clubbed 225 home runs, second only behind the 2000 team that hit 235.
In a pinch
The Cardinals collected two more pinch-hits Sunday, one apiece by Jose Martinez and Garcia.
That boosted their total for the season to 81, which tied a major-league record previously held by themselves in 2007 and the Dodgers in 1992.
At the gate
The final attendance at Busch Stadium was 3,444,490, the second-highest in the major leagues behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was the fifth-highest in Cardinals history. They finished with 19 sellouts.
The Cardinals have surpassed 3 million in attendance 20 times in franchise history, including 13 in a row.