By Rob Rains
After Dexter Fowler drew a leadoff walk on a 3-2 pitch to begin game five of the Division Series on Wednesday, Kolten Wong bunted him to second, hoping to get the Cardinals a run before Jack Flaherty took the mound in the bottom of the first inning.
They got that run home all right – and nine more – in a historic first inning that staked Flaherty to a 10-0 lead before he threw his first pitch of the game.
The biggest first inning in MLB postseason history sent the Cardinals to a 13-1 rout of the Braves that earned them their fifth trip to the NLCS in the last nine seasons since 2011.
That round will begin on Friday night at Busch Stadium against the Washington Nationals, who got a 10th inning grand slam from Howie Kendrick off former Cardinal Joe Kelly to stun the Dodgers Wednesday night in game five of their Division Series in Los Angeles. Friday night’s game will begin at 7:08 p.m. with game two set for 3:08 p.m. on Saturday.
The bunt by Wong was the only out the Cardinals made until their 12th batter came to the plate in the inning, an inning that included five hits with runners in scoring position, one more than the team had combined in the first four games of the series.
“Dex getting on and starting that first with a walk, working a walk — which he did, he worked that,” said manager Mike Shildt. “And at that point you go, okay, here we go, we’ve got some momentum off the bat. And we kept it going.”
Wong was glad the inning went the way it did, even though he really would have been pleased if the Cardinals had scored just once in the inning.
“I was just trying to get Dex in scoring position,” Wong said. “When you have guys coming up like (Paul) Goldschmidt and (Marcell) Ozuna, who are hitting four-something or five-something, you get him in scoring position and you let those dudes do their work.
“The thing we always talk about is keeping the pressure on the other team. We don’t want to feel the pressure; we want to apply the pressure. I told myself, put Dex in scoring position. A single is going to score this dude. This guy flies. Give those guys a chance to drive him in.”
The inning included two walks with the bases loaded and they also took advantage of two errors by the Braves and hit three doubles among their five hits in their biggest inning in the franchise’s 252 all-time postseasons games.
Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz, who had out-dueled Flaherty in the second game of the series, lasted only seven batters in this game and was charged with six of the Cardinals’ 10 runs.
The Cardinals half of the first inning lasted 26 minutes. The 10 runs matched the record for the most runs ever in any inning in MLB postseason history.
The win capped the Cardinals’ comeback from a 2-1 series deficit, when they were four outs away from elimination before Yadier Molina rescued the team on Monday night with a game-tying hit in the eighth inning and a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 10th.
Three of the first four games in this series were decided in the winning team’s final at-bat, but this one was decided in the first – the biggest first inning by the Cardinals in either the regular season or the postseason since they scored 11 runs in the first against the Padres on May 8, 2005.
Their 13-run outburst matched the total number of runs the Cardinals had scored in the first four games of the series.
The 12-run margin was the second largest victory in any winner-take-all postseason game in MLB history, behind only the Braves’ 15-0 win over the Cardinals in game 7 in the 1996 NLCS.
Here is how Wednesday’s game broke down:
At the plate: Goldschmidt followed Wong’s bunt with an infield single by Ozuna got the first run home with a single to right. Following that hit, the Cardinals batters reached on an error, walk, double (Tommy Edman), intentional walk, walk, double (Fowler) and double (Kolten Wong) before scoring their final run on a wild pitch as they sent 14 hitters to the plate … They added to their lead in the second on a triple by Edman and double by Paul DeJong, and in the third on RBI singles by Harrison Bader and DeJong … Bader replaced Matt Carpenter, who drew one of the bases-loaded walks, in a defensive switch before the Cardinals took the field for the bottom of the first … The 13 runs in the first three innings were the most ever through that point of a game in MLB postseason history … The last 16 hitters were retired in order after a single by Goldschmidt in the fourth … In the four innings, they were 8-of-17 with runners in scoring position.
On the mound: Flaherty allowed four hits over six innings, with the Braves only run coming on a home run by Josh Donaldson in the fourth. He walked the first batter he faced after the long top of the first before going on to earn his first postseason victory, striking out eight. The 23-year-old Flaherty is the youngest MLB starter to win a winner-take-all postseason game since 21-year-old Jaret Wright of the Indians beat the Yankees in game 5 of the 1997 Division Series and became the youngest Cardinals starter ever to win a winner-take-all postseason game. Dizzy Dean was 24 when he won game 7 of the 1934 World Series … Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia and Genesis Cabrera each pitched an inning in relief, with Cabrera earning the final out, striking out Dansby Swanson.
Key stat: The win was the eighth by the Cardinals in their last nine winner-take-all postseason games, dating back to game four of the 2004 NLCS. Their only loss in those nine games was in game 7 of the 2012 NLCS against the Giants.
Worth noting: The most runs the Cardinals had scored in an inning in the postseason before Wednesday came in a nine-run second inning in game 4 of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers … The previous MLB record for most runs in the first inning of a postseason game had been seven by the Braves in game 2 of the 1958 World Series … The last team to score 10 runs in any inning in an MLB postseason game was the Angels in game 5 of the 2002 ALCS …The Cardinals became the first team in MLB history to score 10 runs in an inning in the postseason without hitting a home run in the inning … The Braves had not allowed 10 runs in the first inning of any game in the regular season or postseason since July 2, 1925 against the Brooklyn Robins.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals have not announced their pitching plans for the first two games of the NLCS, but Adam Wainwright would be on regular rest for game one on Friday night and Miles Mikolas would seem likely to start game two. Flaherty would be in line for starts in games 3 and 7.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports