Cardinals Even Series With Braves Behind Another Late Rally
- by NewYorkTimes
- Oct. 9, 2019
ST. LOUIS — With all of their late drama over five days — a ninth-inning rally on Sunday, nine runs in the final two innings a couple of nights before that — perhaps it was predictable that the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals would push one of their postseason duels beyond the constraints of nine innings.
It happened just in time on Monday: With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, the teams went to the 10th inning and saw their National League division series extended when a sacrifice fly by Yadier Molina gave St. Louis a 5-4 win and forced a Game 5.
The winner in Atlanta on Wednesday will advance to the N.L. Championship Series, scheduled to start on Friday.
But Atlanta must first reckon with a game that the Braves will remember for missed opportunities and debatable decisions, and both teams must recover from an afternoon of wildly swinging emotions.
Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner who made his name as a playoff stalwart for the Houston Astros before joining the Braves in June, got two quick outs to start the game, which he entered on just three days’ rest. Then Paul Goldschmidt, the St. Louis first baseman whose bat had already tormented Atlanta this series, stepped in. He took four pitches, and then the fifth, a changeup, became a souvenir for someone sitting just above the left-field fence.
Batting right after Goldschmidt, left fielder Marcell Ozuna took even less time, driving Keuchel’s second pitch, a cutter, even deeper into the stands. In the fourth inning, Ozuna sized up a Keuchel slider and hit it out, too, for another solo homer. Keuchel’s day was done two batters later, after 67 pitches.
Dakota Hudson, the St. Louis rookie starter who was making his first postseason appearance, lasted until the fifth inning, when Atlanta stitched together three runs from a ground ball, an error and an Ozzie Albies home run. Including a sacrifice fly from Albies in the third, the Braves now had a 4-3 lead.
It proved difficult to preserve, however, as Goldschmidt, Ozuna and Molina menaced Atlanta’s pitchers.
In the eighth inning, Goldschmidt delivered his second double of the night. With Ozuna, just the man Atlanta did not want to see in the batter’s box, approaching the plate, the Braves’ fielders played deep, the shadows by then covering almost all of the grass. Ozuna struck out, but Molina followed by lashing a drive into right.
Atlanta had already scuttled opportunities to build on its lead, loading the bases in consecutive innings without scoring, its run total stubbornly stuck at four.
Instead, St. Louis concocted a breakthrough in the 10th inning. After second baseman Kolten Wong doubled, the Braves opted to walk Goldschmidt intentionally. That left Atlanta’s Julio Teheran on the mound to face Ozuna, who tapped the ball into a fielder’s choice to put runners at the corners with one out.
Molina, the 37-year-old catcher who has spent his entire career in St. Louis, came to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw just shy of the warning track. Wong tagged and scored. Game over, series tied and on to Atlanta.
“He’s been doing this for a lot of years,” Ozuna said of Molina, a member of two World Series-winning teams in St. Louis whose stature seemed likely to grow even more after Monday’s game. “He knows how you play in the postseason.”
Cardinals Manager Mike Shildt said there was no limit to the situations that Molina was capable of handling.
“If he needs to just put a ball in right field, he can do it,” said Shildt, whose news conference began with a question about whether the team should begin work on a Molina statue. “If he needs to work on getting the ball in the air, he can do it.”
What he did on Monday was buy his team time.
The series opened on Thursday amid what counted as a raucous atmosphere for suburban Atlanta, but the Braves squandered an early lead as the Cardinals scored six runs in the final two innings to take a 1-0 series lead.
The Braves won Game 2 behind solid pitching, and claimed Sunday’s Game 3 with a ninth-inning rally to give themselves an opportunity to clinch the series on Monday.
But time and again any potential celebration for Atlanta, which has not won a postseason series since 2001, was postponed.
“We had the deck stacked, I thought, pretty good in our favor more than once today, and we just couldn’t get a hit,” Brian Snitker, Atlanta’s manager, said.
Now the series will run on, adding more late theatrics: a winner-take-all Game 5.