A tight National League Division Series that was defined by timely hitting and outstanding pitching in its first four games could only have ended in one way – with an absolute blowout.
The Cardinals chased Mike Foltynewicz, who did not allow a run in seven innings pitched in Game 2, from Wednesday’s decisive Game 5 with just one out in the first.
Seven runs would ultimately be charged to his line before Max Fried failed to staunch the bleeding and St. Louis romped to a 13-1 victory to advance to the club’s first National League Championship Series since 2014.
It was perhaps the biggest drubbing in Atlanta since Gen. Sherman rolled through town and Scarlett O’Hara stole a wagon.
The 10-run first was the first time the Cardinals scored as many or more runs in the first inning since they recorded 11 against San Diego on May 8, 2005 and the most by any team in the postseason in Major League history, shattering the previous record of seven set by the Milwaukee Braves in the second game of the 1958 World Series.
Their 13 runs were the club’s most in any postseason game since they scored a franchise-record 16 against the Texas Rangers in the third game of the 2011 World Series.
The first was so decisive that Cardinals manager Mike Shildt turned to his ace defensive replacement to start the bottom of the first inning, removing Matt Carpenter and inserting Harrison Bader. With such a large lead, there was even a reasonable discussion to be had about saving starter Jack Flaherty for the first game of the next round of the postseason.
“I was going to give it everything I had until they said I was done,” Flaherty said from a raucous postgame celebration. “Even when they said I was done, I said I got one more. So that was that.”
The only out recorded by Foltynewicz was one gifted to him, as Kolten Wong put down a sacrifice bunt following Dexter Fowler’s leadoff walk.
“Pressure. Pressure pressure pressure” was how Wong described the offensive attack. His teammates on the bench, led unerringly by José Martínez, rhythmically pounded the dugout rail as it became clear that the Braves’ pitcher was not in his finest form.
“We wanted that inning right there in the first inning, set the tone,” Martínez said from behind ski goggles protecting his eyes from flying alcohol. “We know Foltynewicz came in kind of erratic, so as soon as (Wong) got to the dugout he said, ‘now let’s put some pressure on this guy.’
“We did it the whole game, and that’s how the game ends. We put pressure the whole game, and we won.”
Flaherty picked up the win, pitching six innings and allowing just one run and four hits while striking out eight, setting a Cardinals record with 16 in this Division Series. He also delivered a curious hit by pitch to the back of Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña, Jr. in the fifth.
Given that the Cardinals had a double-digit lead before Flaherty took the mound and that he recorded his third plate appearance before his third inning pitch, there was a degree of surprise that Shildt allowed him to pitch as far into the game as he did, as he tossed 104 pitches in those innings. He also hit for himself in the fifth inning immediately following the plunking of Acuña.
“We finished this series,” Shildt explained. “He did his job; got us through six. Kept it right there (and) brought it home. They hit the homer, make it 13-1, the place was buzzing. And they had some momentum in the fifth and we knocked it down. “
As for the pitch that connected with Acuña, Flaherty didn’t take any exception to the animated rookie’s taking exception.
“We’ve got two strikes on him, we were trying to go in,” Flaherty said. “If we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna go in tight. It hit him and he took exception to it. That’s the guy he wants to be, that’s how it is.
“He’s been having all his antics all series. The guy hits a ball off the wall, he gets a single out of it. So he wants to take exception to it? He can do whatever he wants. He can talk all he wants.”
Shildt, in a fiery postgame speech that was live streamed to Instagram by outfielder Randy Arozarena, made reference to the Braves “starting some [stuff].”
“We finished the [stuff],” Shildt told the team. “And that’s how we roll.”
The team now rolls either to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers or home to St. Louis to take on the Washington Nationals.
Regardless of opponent, the advance to the NLCS is a demonstration of distance covered by a team which was one game above .500 at the All-Star break and now finds itself as one of baseball’s final four.
“Our best is good enough,” Flaherty said. “We’ve seen that. We’ve just gotta stay right there.”