ST. LOUIS – Heading into Game 5 of their NL division series against Pittsburgh, the Cardinals can take comfort in this: They’re 7-1 the last three years when facing postseason elimination.
Manager Mike Matheny said poise comes from a mind-set of sticking to routine that is established during spring training.
“We saw it in Pittsburgh, and I anticipate seeing it tomorrow,” Matheny said Tuesday after most players attended an optional workout. “They show up like it’s another – it’s another great day.”
Starter Adam Wainwright was loose and playful on the podium, joking that he got knocked out early on purpose in last year’s division series finale at Washington to “get the mojo flowing.” He tore a page from the Tony La Russa quote book, declining to discuss possible wrinkles for Game 5, turning to Matheny and asking, “Is that a scouting report? That’s a scouting report.”
Though this is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first playoff appearance since 1992, they’ve looked seasoned, too.
“This is obviously an exciting time, a high-pressure situation, and you know, this is what you prepare for all year,” rookie starter Gerrit Cole said. “Yeah, it’s extremely exciting, and I can’t wait.”
The Pirates will be facing an opponent they all know too well. It’ll be the 24th meeting of the season, with strong stretches on both sides and the Pirates holding a 12-11 edge.
“You’ve got to meet the demands of the game,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don’t think I’ve been in a game where somebody just didn’t show up.”
Runs figure to be at a premium. Michael Wacha flirted with a no-hitter for the second straight game Monday, holding Pittsburgh hitless until Pedro Alvarez’s eighth-inning homer, and St. Louis held on for a 2-1 win that brought the series back to Busch Stadium.
Wainwright allowed a run in seven innings in the opener and is 5-0 in his last six starts. The 19-game winner became the third pitcher in franchise history to twice lead the league in victories, joining Dizzy Dean and Mort Cooper. Wainwright embraces the role of ace he inherited from injured Chris Carpenter.
Last season was Wainwright’s first year back from reconstructive elbow surgery, and he described his stuff as “hit or miss.” He allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings in Game 5 of the division series against the Nationals, then rebounded to beat San Francisco in Game 4 of the NL championship series.
“This year I have all the confidence in the world in my stuff,” Wainwright said. “It’s a completely different situation.”
Wainwright leans on advice injured closer Jason Isringhausen gave him in 2006 – just breathe. Then a rookie, Wainwright got the final out in the NLCS and the World Series. He said the bullpen experience taught him the “urgency of each pitch.”
“Going out there and getting a guy out one time like it’s going to be the last time you ever face him, that’s the mentality I took into starting,” Wainwright said. “I have to give it everything I’ve got every pitch until they take the ball from me.”
Cole made a dazzling postseason debut in Game 2, when he retired 11 consecutive hitters. Now that they’ve seen him, the Cardinals expect to have more success against him.
“I think it’s going to help big-time,” Matt Adams said. “We’re going to know how the ball’s coming out of his hand and know what his tendencies are.”
Of course, Cole has seen them, too.
“So it’s just going to come down to executing a handful of pitches, being able to hit the spot or execute the pitch when I need to,” Cole said.
Statistically, the series is almost dead even. The Pirates are batting .236 with 14 runs, while the Cardinals are hitting .192 with 15 runs.
Matheny said leadoff man Matt Carpenter, in a 1-for-15 slide with six strikeouts, has been trying too hard.
“Looks like he’s seeing the ball better,” Matheny said. “What he’s guilty of is carrying too much and feeling like he’s got to do something extra special.”
Alvarez has three homers and five RBIs for the Pirates, and NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen is batting .357. But leadoff man Starling Marte 1 for 15 and Neil Walker is hitless in 16 at-bats.
Hurdle said he wasn’t contemplating changes for Game 5.
“These men are both capable and they have done it in the past,” Hurdle said. “We have been pitched effectively in a couple different spots. I have every confidence that tomorrow night will be the night that they get going.”