ST. LOUIS -- Busch Stadium had already been shaking. The sold out crowd had sensed the goal was near. But only when Adam Wainwright emerged from the dugout in the ninth inning Wednesday night did the fans finally let loose.
The ace of the Cardinals sprinted to the mound to finish his masterpiece, a complete game 6-1 victory over the Pirates to capture Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
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"It made everybody in the whole stadium's hair stand on end," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Because you could see he wanted that ball worse than anything in the world."
In the end, pedigree won out over pluckiness. And few embody the Cardinals' championship DNA better than the veteran Wainwright, who has served as a mentor to a pitching staff loaded with twenty-somethings. A year ago, Wainwright allowed six runs in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals.
But this time, he put the Cardinals on his back, scattering eight hits over nine innings to end the Pirates' first postseason trip since 1992. "These are the kind of moments that starting pitchers live for," Wainwright said.
David Freese hit a two-run homer in the second to put the Cardinals in the driver's seat before Matt Adams' two-run bomb in the eighth.
The Cardinals trailed 2-1 in the series before rallying for back-to-back victories, enough to earn their third straight trip to the NLCS. Game 1 against the Dodgers will be Friday in St. Louis.
The Pirates had shown signs of a pulse, using three infield hits to scratch out a run in the seventh. And in the eighth, the Pirates brought the tying run to the plate. Down 3-1, Jordy Mercer singled to bring up Starling Marte. But Marte lined out to second baseman Matt Carpenter and Mercer was doubled off first on a close play.
It proved to be the Pirates' last gasp.
The Cardinals struck first in the second, turning a two-out rally into a 2-0 lead. John Jay worked a walk, bringing up Freese, who was hitting .154 in the NLDS. When Pirates rookie righthander Gerrit Cole missed with a slider over the inner half of the plate, Freese was ready to pounce, making it 2-0 when his homer sailed over the leftfield fence and into the middle of the Pirates' bullpen.
It was the only real damage to the 23-year-old Cole.
He went five innings, allowing two runs and three hits before he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the sixth.
The way Wainwright pitched, the two runs would have been plenty.
"It's what you'd expect out of Adam," Freese said. "And he expects it out of himself. Just an absolute warrior."
With his trademark curveball, he pushed through until the ninth, when he sprinted from the dugout to finish off his complete game. It ended with a strikeout of Pedro Alvarez, triggering a mob scene in front of the pitcher's mound.
Said Wainwright: "I've got to put it right up there with the most fun and one of the greatest moments of my career so far, no doubt."