By Rob Rains
Adam Wainwright was in the training room as the ninth inning fell apart for the Cardinals on Sunday night, watching on television and doing everything he could to will Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals to one more out.
Having been in that position before, trying to get the 27th out in a postseason game, Wainwright knew exactly what Martinez was going through.
“You just feel for Carlos,” Wainwright said. “He’s been so great all year. We had a chance to maybe put a couple of insurance runs out there and their guys did a great job … Let’s hope one moment doesn’t define a season because I’d like to see him get another chance at it.
“It’s the hardest out there is to get. Anybody who thinks anybody can go out there and get the last out, they don’t know what they are talking about. It’s a different deal getting those last three. Unless you experience that you don’t know what I am talking about. You will think I’m stupid. But trust me I’m not.”
If Martinez had been able to get that out, the Cardinals would have claimed a 1-0 win and taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series against the Braves.
It also would have been a meaningful moment for the 38-year-old Wainwright, who was one out away from winning his first postseason start at Busch Stadium since game five of the Division Series against the Pirates on Oct. 9, 2013.
That was 2,188 days ago, just three days shy of six years, but despite that long gap and everything he has gone through over that span, Wainwright was never better than he was on Sunday night – relying on spiritual guidance to enable his right arm to throw 120 pitches over 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
But the ninth inning was beyond his control as the Braves rallied for the 3-1 win.
“It was one of the most fun games I’ve ever pitched,” Wainwright said. “Great atmosphere. I can’t ask for much more than that.”
He just needed Martinez to get one more out.
In the ninth, as Wainwright watched, Josh Donaldson led off the inning with a double. Martinez struck out the next two hitters, as pinch-runner Billy Hamilton stole third. Brian McCann was intentionally walked, and Dansby Swanson hit a double, driving in the tying run. That brought up Adam Duvall, who lined a two-run single to center off Martinez to put the Braves ahead and plunge a sold-out Busch Stadium into silence.
Manager Mike Shildt knew he was putting the potential winning run on base when he ordered the intentional walk to McCann to bring up Swanson, who had two of the Braves’ five hits to that point in the game.
“Consensus was that rather take a shot at Swanson, 0-of-6 at that point with Carlos, clearly that’s the go-ahead run you’re putting on,” Shildt said. “But you have two outs, and we play to win. Gotta play to win the game. Everybody felt like that was the best matchup, including the guy on the mound. Took our shot. Didn’t make a pitch, and made him pay.”
Martinez also gave up three runs in the ninth in game one in Atlanta, but on that day the Cardinals entered the inning with a four-run lead and escaped with the win. They didn’t have that margin for error on Sunday night, and now have no margin for error in the series.
Martinez, through a team interpreter, said he did feel like he let Wainwright, and the rest of the team, down.
“It’s tough for me not to be able to close that game,” Martinez said. “Everybody has a bad day. Today was my turn.”
It’s been 13 years since Wainwright was on the mound trying to get the 27th out in a postseason game. He remembers that moment, and he knows Martinez is going to remember Sunday night, even if the results were different.
“I will talk to Carlos, for sure,” Wainwright said. “Give him a big ‘ol hug. Carlos will be ready tomorrow. He’s a great competitor, great stuff. Left a couple of pitches up today and their guys made good swings. Couple moments here could swing the difference to us.
“We were one out away. That is exactly what playoff baseball is all about, just crazy stuff happens. We were one out away from losing a World Series a couple of years back and we ended up winning. We’ll show up tomorrow ready to play and hopefully win an important game.”
Here is how Sunday night’s game broke down:
At the plate: Atlanta starter Mike Soroka allowed only one hit, a bloop double by Marcell Ozuna, in the second through the first six innings. That also was the Cardinals only baserunner as he took third on a ground ball and scored on a sacrifice fly from Matt Carpenter .. Soroka retired 17 batters in a row before Ozuna singled in the seventh … Carpenter and Tommy Edman walked to open the eighth, but pinch-runner Harrison Bader was thrown out trying to steal third and the Cardinals failed to add to their lead … Paul Goldschmidt doubled with one out in the ninth to bring the tying run to the plate, but Ozuna struck out and Yadier Molina flew out to end the game … In the last two games the Cardinals have scored one run on 12 hits over the 18 innings.
On the mound: Wainwright allowed four hits over his 7 2/3 innings, struck out eight and did not walk a batter until the final two batters he faced in the game … His 120 pitches was the most by a pitcher 38 years old or older in the postseason since Roger Clemens threw 138 in the 2000 ALCS … It was the longest scoreless outing for a Cardinals’ starter 38 or older since Woody Williams in game five of the 2004 NLCS … Andrew Miller inherited the bases loaded from Wainwright with the two outs in the eighth and retired Freddie Freeman on a fly to center … This was the first postseason save opportunity for Martinez in his career and it was the first blown save by the Cardinals in the postseason since game three of the 2013 World Series against Boston.
Key stat: This was only the second time in franchise history the Braves won a playoff game when they were down to their final out. The other was game seven of the 1992 NLCS against the Pirates. It also was the first playoff win for the Braves after they trailed in the ninth inning or later since game six of the 1999 NLCS. They had lost 34 consecutive postseason games when trailing in the ninth or later.
Worth noting: The 22-year-old Soroka is the third youngest starter to pitch against the Cardinals in the postseason. The two younger starters were Clayton Kershaw in the 2009 NLDS and Bret Saberhagen in the 1985 World Series. Both were 21 … Wainwright got strikes on a 68 miles per hour curveball, to Freeman, and a 92-mph sinker, to Ronald Acuna Jr. … Wainwright is now 0-4 with three no-decisions in his postseason starts since the game five NLCS clincher against the Pirates in 2013 … Paul DeJong was dropped to the eighth spot in the batting order for the first time since May 4 of last year. He was 0-of-3 and is now 2-of-10 in the series. Dexter Fowler was 0-of-4 and is 1-of-11 in the series.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals will try to stave off elimination and force the series back to Atlanta in game four, which will begin at 2:07 p.m. on Monday with rookie Dakota Hudson getting his first postseason start.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports
Mike Shildt Post-game interview: