ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright sprinted to the mound for the ninth inning, sending a message that he had plenty left. He pretended not to notice when the bullpen got busy, and he avoided eye contact with manager Mike Matheny.
Without saying a word, the St. Louis Cardinals ace told them all to stand down, he had this one.
“To pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt,” Wainwright said after throwing a complete game to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Wednesday night and put the Cardinals in the NL championship series for the third straight season.
“These are the moments that starting pitchers live for.”
David Freese’s two-run homer in the second inning off rookie Gerrit Cole was all Wainwright needed. The right-hander also had won Game 1 and allowed one run in 16 innings in two dominant outings against the Pirates.
The Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the last three years, and they get to stay at home to open the NLCS against the well-rested Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Freese said. “It’s going to be fun, St. Louis and L.A. going at it.”
Wainwright was motivated for Game 5, mindful that he’d put the Cardinals in an early 6-0 hole at Washington last October and needed the offense to pick him up. He struck out Pedro Alvarez with two men on to end the complete game that he’d said was a goal.
“I didn’t want to see him come out of that game, and he wasn’t coming out,” Matheny said. “It made everybody in the whole stadium’s hair stand on end, because you could see he wanted that ball worse than anything in the world.”
Jon Jay had an RBI single in the sixth and Matt Adams hit his first homer of the postseason, a two-run shot off Mark Melancon in the Cardinals‘ three-run eighth.
Alvarez was again a highlight for Pittsburgh, becoming the first player to get an RBI in his first six postseason games on a fluke hit that caromed off first base in the seventh. The rally began with a pair of infield hits.
The Pirates were held to one run in each of the final two games of their first playoff appearance since 1992. Pittsburgh beat the Reds in the NL wild-card game, but hasn’t won a postseason series since winning the World Series in 1979.
“We’re not the team that lost again, we’re the team that won,” MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen said. “We definitely have to take a little pride in that we were that team.
“It feels like it’s going to be the beginning for us.”