Cardinals vs. Braves takeaways: St. Louis reaches fifth NLCS in nine seasons thanks to MLB-record first inning

Thanks to a historic first inning, the St. Louis Cardinals are heading to the NLCS. The Cardinals humiliated the Atlanta Braves in the winner-take-all Game 5 of their NLDS matchup on Wednesday night (STL 13, ATL 1). It is one of the most lopsided games in postseason history.

St. Louis was four outs away from losing Game 4 and going home for the winter. Now they're heading to the NLCS. Here are six things to know about the series-clinching win for the Cardinals.

1. The Cardinals had a historic first inning

Game 5 was over in a hurry. The Cardinals tagged Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz and reliever Max Fried for 10 runs -- 10 runs! -- in the top of the first inning Wednesday evening. It is the most runs scored in the first inning in postseason history. R.J. Anderson has a blow-by-blow recap.

Foltynewicz faced eight batters and got one out. It was a sacrifice bunt by No. 2 hitter Kolten Wong. Atlanta recorded the second out of the inning 10 batters later, when Paul Goldschmidt flied out to right field. The Cardinals were up 9-0 at the time. Ten runs on five hits, four walks, one error, and one strikeout/wild pitch.

Freddie Freeman's error was crucial. He booted Yadier Molina's potential inning-ending double play ground ball. If the Braves turn two there, the inning is over and the Cardinals are up only 1-0. That's nothing. The double play wasn't turned, however, and St. Louis went on to add another nine runs. Brutal. Just brutal.

The Cardinals had such a big lead that third baseman Matt Carpenter was replaced defensively in the bottom of the first inning. He is routinely pulled for defense, but never that early. The Cardinals are the fourth team in MLB history to score 10 runs in an inning in the postseason, and they're the first to do it without a home run. Here are the other three 10-run inning teams:

Those three teams all went on to win the World Series, which I suppose is a good omen for the Cardinals. St. Louis built a 13-0 lead by the third inning in Game 5 matching the 13 runs they scored in Games 1-4 of the NLDS combined. They are the first team in MLB history to score 13 runs through the first three innings of a postseason game.

As for the Braves, Game 5 was the first time they allowed 10 runs in the first inning since way back in 1925. The Boston Braves gave up 10 first inning runs to the Brooklyn Dodgers on July 2, 1925. Two cities and nearly one century ago.

2. The Cardinals did not pull Flaherty early

After putting up a 10-spot in the top of the first inning, the Cardinals could've pulled ace Jack Flaherty from Game 5, and saved him for NLCS Game 1. Surely the bullpen could protect a 10-run lead, right? Right-hander Daniel Ponce de Leon was on the roster and available for long relief, so pulling Flaherty wouldn't have taxed the bullpen too much. 

Instead, the Cardinals stuck with Flaherty in the win or go home contest, and he delivered six innings of one-run ball. Even with a massive lead, St. Louis did not want to tempt fate, and stuck with their best to secure the NLDS-clinching win.

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Jack Flaherty STL • SP • 22
NLDS Game 5 vs. Braves
IP6
H4
R1
ER1
BB1
K8
HR1
Pitches104

Six innings in NLDS Game 5 means Flaherty will not be available until Game 3 of the NLCS. Had the Cardinals pulled him after the 10-run top of the first, he could've started NLCS Game 1. Heck, Flaherty could've thrown an inning or two and treated it like a side day, and then started NLCS Game 2. Instead, the Cardinals won't have him until Game 3.

Josh Donaldson hit a token solo homer against Flaherty in the fourth inning to get the Braves on the board. The largest comeback in postseason history remains an eight-run comeback by the 1929 A's. That 1929 A's team had the 10-run seventh inning I mentioned earlier, which helped turn an 8-0 deficit into a 10-8 win.    

Flaherty, by the way, became the first Cardinals pitcher to draw a bases-loaded walk in the postseason since Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in Game 4 of the 1968 World Series. He drove in a run with that walk in the first inning.

3. There were some fireworks

With a runner on first and two outs in the fifth inning, Flaherty drilled Ronald Acuna Jr. in the arm with a 1-2 fastball. Acuna was not pleased and had to be escorted down to first base. The benches did not clear but both teams were warned.

Marcell Ozuna was hit by a pitch in the third inning, so it's possible Flaherty drilled Acuna in retaliation. Waiting until the fifth pitch of the at-bat (there was a two-strike foul ball) to hit someone in retaliation is unusual, but maybe it was a spur of the moment decision. 

It should be noted the Braves had the perfect opportunity to retaliate when Flaherty batted in the top of the sixth. They could've hit him there. Flaherty even jumped back from a first pitch fastball. Instead, there were no additional fireworks the rest of the game.

4. Molina set a new NL record

No player in baseball history has played more postseason games in the National League than Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. The future Hall of Famer (yup) broke a tie with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones in Game 5. Here is the all-time postseason games played leaderboard among National League players:

  1. Yadier Molina: 94 and counting
  2. Chipper Jones: 93
  3. Matt Holliday: 76
  4. Andruw Jones: 75
  5. Albert Pujols: 74

All five played during the divisional play era, as you'd expect. Molina could become only the sixth player in history to appear in 100 postseason games before the end of the month. The all-time leader in postseason games played is, of course, Derek Jeter. Jeter suited up in 158 career postseason games. Basically a full extra season tacked on to his 20-year career.

5. Freeman had a disastrous NLDS

That back-breaking first inning error is only part of it. Freeman, the No. 3 hitter, went 4 for 20 (.200) with a walk and a solo home run in the NLDS, including 2 for 15 (.133) in the final four games of the series. Both hits came in Game 5, after the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first inning. It was an all-around awful series for one of the game's best players. 

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Freddie Freeman ATL • 1B • 5
2019 NLDS vs. Cardinals
AVG.200
OBP.273
SLG.400

Freeman is not the sole reason the Braves were eliminated in such embarrassing fashion in Game 5, but he is without a doubt a big reason they're heading home after the NLDS. Acuna and Dansby Swanson (and bench player Adam Duvall) carried the Braves offensively in the series. They needed help and didn't get it.

6. The Cardinals are moving on

For the first time since 2014, the Cardinals are going to the NLCS. They snapped their three-year postseason drought this season and are back in the NLCS for the first time since going to NLCS four straight years from 2011-14. St. Louis will take on the winner of Wednesday night's Dodgers vs. Nationals game in the NLCS. That series begins Friday at 8 p.m. ET -- stream via fuboTV (Try for free).  

The Braves, meanwhile, still have not advanced to the NLCS since 2001. That was back during the Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz era. Atlanta has lost in the NLDS eight times (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, 2013, 2018, 2019) and in the NL Wild Card Game once (2012) since then, and none of those series-clinching losses was as embarrassing as this one.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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