It was a fair assumption to give the St. Louis Cardinals the edge in Thursday night’s National League Division Series opener at Busch Stadium.
The Pirates arrived in town Wednesday fresh off of four consecutive wins against the division rival Cincinnati Reds. Expectations were low, but the narrative was limitless.
What happened Thursday evening at Busch Stadium won’t determine the series. What it does do, however, is bring the Pirates back down to reality.
These two teams faced each other 19 times during the regular season, but the Pirates are new to Busch Stadium’s October personality. From April through September, it gets noisy—in October, it comes to life.
The Cardinals out-hit, out-fielded, out-pitched, outran, out-managed and just generally outplayed the Pirates.
Game 1s have always been huge in setting a series tone, particularly for the Cardinals. Since 1987, the Game 1 winner of a postseason series involving the Cardinals has gone on to win the series 17 of 23 times.
They’re on a mission, but don’t underestimate the Pirates.
What you saw Thursday was the Cardinals doing what they do best—hitting with runners in scoring position, showing patience at the plate and taking quality pitching through to the ninth inning.
The other thing you saw was the Pirates fighting the same battles they have all season—struggling against the curveball, falling apart when things start to slip away and just generally not playing their best ball at Busch Stadium (the Pirates are 3-6 in St. Louis this season before Thursday night.)
While the Cardinals did what they needed to do, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The Pirates wouldn’t be in the postseason if Thursday’s game was a typical example of their performance.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talked extensively after the game about how the team is capable of bouncing back.
“We've lost a few games like this this year, so what we've been good at is just moving on,” Hurdle said. “We knew coming in we had to find a way to win a game here.”
With Game 1 behind them, Hurdle also knows that the pressure is on his Pirates to step up their game. If they don’t, the Cardinals will mow them over.
He’s well aware of that.
“We're really good at dealing with the reality of the situation,” he said. “We didn't win today. We didn't play a good game. We didn't play well enough to win. We didn't do the things we needed to do.
“We can go a number of different ways tomorrow along with Cole to give us our best shot, get a win and get out of here,” he said.
He wants to get out of here because they already got a taste of the Pittsburgh postseason crowd.
For that same reason, it’s equally important that the Cardinals pull out a win on Friday afternoon. The road games aren’t going to be easy and you don’t want to let this series get tied up.
They need to keep Pittsburgh on their toes and backed into a corner. That’s where you find out what type of team you’re facing.
Thursday night’s win was huge for the Cardinals, but remember, it’s only one win. If the Pirates win Friday, this turns into a three-game series where they have home-field advantage.
The Cardinals aren’t in a must-win situation for Friday, but the road through Pittsburgh will be a lot more comfortable if they do.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author. Stats from Baseball Reference current as of Oct. 3, 2013.