Adam Wainwright, with a ring already on his finger from the 2006 World Series, didn't bring his best stuff. In fact, he was so bad it looked like he didn't even belong in a major league uniform.
Facing Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman at the top of the Nationals order, the experienced big man with the wicked 12-6 curve gave up a double, a triple and a home run in the first inning before the first batter was even retired.
And that should have been it right there for Wainwright.
Cardinals' manager watched his reliable vet come up empty and embarrass himself as well as put the Cards in a huge hole in an elimination game. Amazingly, the Cards got out of the first inning after Wainwright punched out the 4-5-6 hitters in order, and the second was relatively uneventful for both teams.
Despite the three strikeouts, St. Louis fans were looking everywhere for activity in the bullpen from Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly or maybe even Shelby Miller.
There was none.
Wainwright's second inning performance didn't carry over as Bryce Harper and Michael Morse both went deep off Wainwright, scoring three more runs, putting the Cards at a six-run deficit in just the third inning.
Matheny's willingness to let one of his two aces crash and burn right before the entire team's eyes could have easily been the end of the game, but the Cardinals proved they were still the Cardinals of last year with or without Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. Overcoming adversity in the form of losing starting shortstop Rafael Furcal and first baseman and 2011 hero Lance Berkman was only part of the Cardinals' postseason repertoire of clutch-ness.
An air of supreme confidence and domination surrounded the Cardinals after the fourth inning—something that told the Redbirds that they were indeed better than their opponents, reminding themselves that they are still the defending champions no matter what the scoreboards says.
Between the fourth and eighth innings the Cardinals got back on track with major contributions from Matt Holliday in the form of 2 RBI and a late Daniel Descalso home run that put the game back at 5-6, pushing momentum all the way in favor of the Cards.
Commend Gio Gonzalez for another great performance, the 21-game winner gave up only three runs in five innings, which is respectable when you leave the mound for the night having given your team a three-run advantage.
Both Tyler Clippard and former Cardinal Edwin Jackson gave up one run apiece, but other than their one mistake the two had some huge outs.
Clippard gave up a homer to Descalso, but retired the next three batters in order, and Edwin Jackson had two huge strikeouts.
It might be unfair to play the blame game and place the onus on Nats' closer Drew Storen, but that's exactly where we are in hindsight. Storen let none other than Daniel Descalso abuse him for two runs that scored leadoff man Carlos Beltran, who has been nothing short of brilliant this entire series.
Then the straw that broke the camel's back came in the form of backup shortstop Pete Kozma who connected perfectly and sent a two-run single down the first base line—the rest is history.
During a night that was full of managerial woes, horrible and amazing pitching performances, and one team reeking of desperation and the other a little too much confidence, we were treated to one of the best comebacks the league has seen the entire year.
Now the focus in DC will now surround Nats' GM Mike Rizzo's decision to bench Stephen Strasburg.
Was it the right move?
At this point in time Strasburg has been vindicated and Rizzo will be viewed as a meddling old villain who cost a playoff-hungry franchise the World Series.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the Giants eagerly await the Cardinals for what could be one of the most exciting NLCS in history, featuring the last two World Series champions squaring off in a seven game series that will be played on the side of the bay and under a monumental arch.
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