Sunday, October 2, 2011 - At Citizens Bank Park (Chis Carpenter - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies (Cliff Lee - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 46,575
The 2011 postseason for the St Louis Cardinals began - as most experts predicted - with a Game One NLDS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies - and Game Two seemed destined for defeat, as well.
The Cardinals were down 4-0 after three innings of play.
Cliff Lee - one of the game's best pitchers - was on the mound for the Phillies.
Trying to mount a comeback under those circumstances required two highly unlikely conditions to be fulfilled: (1) The Cardinals would have to score at least five runs while (2) the bullpen would have to prevent the potent Phillies lineup from any further scoring.
Of course, that's exactly what happened, as the Cardinals shocked the Phillies, their fans and the experts, with a come-from-behind 5-4 win - to even this best-of-five playoff series at one game apiece.
Prevailing in the face of adversity became a trademark for the 2011 St Louis Cardinals - and this game was no exception. Its frustrating beginning featured a lead-off triple off the bat of Rafael Furcal to start the game. But Cliff Lee struck out Allen Craig, got Albert Pujols on a popup to the second baseman, then induced Lance Berkman to ground out to the third baseman to end the threat.
With that wasted opportunity came more frustration, as the Phillies scored three first-inning runs off Chris Carpenter - starting this game on four - not the usual five - days' rest. A lead-off double by Jimmy Rollins preceded back-to-back walks to Chase Utley and Hunter Pence. Ryan Howard scored J-Rol and Utley with a single to center, before the Flyin' Hawaiian - Shane Victorino - made the first out of the inning - on a fly ball to Jon Jay in center.
Tobacco-chewing Raul Ibanez then stroked a single to left - scoring Pence with the Phillies' third run of the game, as Howard stopped at second. This game - along with the Cardinals' postseason - seemed to be slipping away very quickly. However, Placido Polanco obligingly grounded into a Furcal-to-Theriot-to-Pujols double play to keep the deficit at three runs.
Leading-off the second-inning for the Redbirds was David Freese. He doubled, but like Furcal an inning earlier, would be stranded. Lee struck out Yadier Molina and Ryan Theriot - then got Jon Jay on a tap right back to the mound to retire the side.
The Phillies added to the Cardinals' frustration in the bottom of the second. With two out, Rollins lined his second straight double into left field - then stole third while Utley was drawing a base on balls. Pense got the RBI on a base hit to right before Carpenter escaped further damage by retiring Howard on a fly ball to left. Still, the Phillies had a formidable 4-0 lead with a former Cy Young Award winner on the mound. As Whitey Herzog might have said, "It don't look good on paper."
After an uneventful third-inning, the Cardinals finally got something started in the fourth. Lance Berkman walked to lead-off the frame. After Freese looked at a called third strike, Molina reached on an infield single to short - advancing Berkman to second. Ryan Theriot then got perhaps the biggest hit of his career - a double to right field to score Berkman with the first run of the game for St Louis. Jay then scored Molina with a single to right - as Theriot advanced to third, while Jay moved up to second on the throw to the plate.
With Carpenter due to bat, manager Tony LaRusssa sent Nick Punto in to pinch hit - and he struck out. However, Furcal lined a two-out single to left, scoring Theriot - but left fielder Ibanez nailed Jay at the plate, trying to score. The Cardinals were only down by a single run, as the Citizens Bank Ballpark mood suddenly shifted from frivolity to paranoia.
Carpenter's night was over after three arm-weary innings: five hits - four runs - thee walks - two strikeouts - not a typical game for the Cardinal ace - but the early exit would help him recover sufficiently for his next start.
Now, it was up to the bullpen to keep the Phillies in check for the next six innings. Six relievers - Salas, Dotel, Rzepczynski, Boggs, Rhodes and Motte - did just that - shutting out the Phillies on one hit while striking out six.
Meanwhile, with Cliff Lee still toiling for Philadelphia, the Cardinals tied the game in the sixth-inning. It all started with a two-out double by Theriot - who scored on Jay's opposite-field single to left. Once again, the Cardinals tested the arm of left fielder Ibanez - and this time, Theriot slid in safely on a high throw to the plate. Momentarily sprawled across home plate, the jubilant Theriot jumped to his feet and was given a hero's welcome in the animated Redbird dugout - given a new lease on postseason life - this game was tied, 4-4.
Manager Charlie Manuel continued to trust his starter, heading into the seventh-inning of this suddenly tied ballgame. That may have been a mistake. This time, Allen Craig got the lead-off extra base hit for the Redbirds - a triple, deep to left field.
This time, the Cardinals didn't squander a golden scoring opportunity. Pujols lined the first pitch from Lee just over the leaping Rollins' outstretched glove at shortstop - into left field with the base hit that put the Cardinals in the lead for the first time in the game.
After Berkman blooped a single just out of Utley's reach at second base - advancing Pujols to third - Manuel finally decided Lee had run out of gas. His pitching line: 6 IP - 12 H - 5 R - 2 BB - 9 SO
Ironically, reliever Brad Lidge managed to work his way out of that first and third-nobody out mess - to keep the score where it was - a 5-4 Cardinal advantage. Relievers Bastardo, Worley and Madson worked the final two scoreless innings for Philadelphia. But it was too late. The damage had been done.
Jason Motte closed out the Phillies in order in the ninth, to earn his first postseason save. Octavial Dotel (1-0) pitched 1.1 innings of perfect relief to record the win - and keep the Cardinals' postseason dreams alive.
St Louis had last appeared in the postseason in 2009 - eliminated in three straight agonizing losses to the Dodgers in the first round. This crucial win prevented a similar calamity from occurring this year.
The faces of the distraught fans still lingering around after their team's stunning defeat told the story: They were very concerned about the outcome of this best-of-five series - and they had every reason to feel that way.