The Cardinals bullied their way into the NLCS by pounding the Braves in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS on Wednesday. Thanks in large measure to an -- the most runs ever scored in the first inning of postseason game -- the Cardinals cruised to a 13-1 victory (box score) and a spot in the NLCS against the Dodgers or Nationals.
In that record-setting first inning, the Cardinals tallied five hits, including three doubles, and four walks (one intentional). They also plated a run on a dropped third strike (ruled a wild pitch). Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz, who shut out the Cardinals for seven innings in Game 2, was lifted after recording only one out.
On the other side, St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty, gifted a double-digit lead before he'd even thrown a pitch, worked six innings and allowed only one run while striking out eight and walking one. Somewhat surprisingly manager Mike Shildt left Flaherty in for 104 pitches despite the early lead. That said, Flaherty will be on full rest for NLCS Game 3 and can make another full-rest start in Game 7, should the series go that long.
That lone Braves run came on a Josh Donaldson solo home run in the fourth.
As the Cardinals get set to play for the pennant, the Braves after a 97-win regular season and a second straight division title are once again left facing the reality that they haven't won a postseason series since 2001.
Why the Braves lost
Not to belabor the obvious, but it's that top of the first that did it. Not since 1925 have the Braves allowed 10 runs in the first inning, so consider this to be, from their perspective, a most untimely bit of history. Here, by the way, is how that first inning unfolded:
· Sac bunt (yes, there was a sac bunt in a 10-run inning)
· Fielder's choice
· Intentional walk
· Fly out
· Strikeout (dropped third strike)
And there's your 10-run inning. Seven of those runs wound up being charged to Foltynewicz, who, again, registered his only out on a sac bunt. Oh, he also failed to get a swinging strike on any of his 23 pitches.
By the time that top of the first was over, the cheers had degraded into boos and then degraded further into ironic cheers. The Braves, coming to bat for the first time in the game, were faced with a 97.9 percent chance of losing. Broadly speaking, things got incrementally worse from there.
Why the Cardinals won
In a contest such as this, in which a team essentially ends the game in the first inning, the answers to "why did team x win" and "why did team y lose" are the same. The Cardinals won because they score 10 runs in the first inning.
During the regular season, the Cardinals scored 10 or more runs on 17 occasions, and they went 17-0 in those games. The Braves during the regular season gave up 10 or more runs on eight different occasions and lost all of those games. While that 97.9 percent figure above is duly noted, you could probably take the over on that one by the middle of the first.
Stated another way, when your starting pitcher has four plate appearances by the sixth inning, you're probably going to win. That describes the Cardinals on Wednesday.
Highlight of the game
Given the margin -- painful in the extreme from the Atlanta standpoint -- let us perform an act of consoling mercy and roll tape of the Braves' only run. Take it away, Bringer of Rain:
That's it. That's all there is.
The NLCS gets started Friday at 8 p.m. ET -- stream via fuboTV (Try for free). Should the Nationals prevail over the Dodgers in the other NLDS Game 5 on Wednesday night, then the Cardinals will host them for Games 1 and 2. If the Dodgers win Game 5, then they'll host the Cardinals for Games 1 and 2.
As for the Braves, well, the offseason has begun.
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