Adam Wainwright. (USA TODAY Sports)
(SportsNetwork.com) - With the way the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates battled for the National League Central crown, it's only fitting that their National League Division Series would come down to a decisive fifth game.
St. Louis tries to get back into the NLCS for the third straight year, while the Pirates target their first postseason series win since 1979, as the divisional foes play a winner take all showdown at Busch Stadium.
"You live for those situations," Pittsburgh star Andrew McCutchen said. "This is the game that we play. They didn't say it was going to be easy getting here to where we are. We've done a good job of getting in this position. We live for all those moments. Anything can happen in this game."
On Wednesday, though, the Cards turn to their ace in Adam Wainwright, who tied for the NL lead with 19 wins and was marvelous in his Game 1 start versus the Pirates, as he allowed just one run and struck out nine in seven innings.
"We're always excited to see Adam Wainwright on the mound," Cards manager Mike Matheny said after the Cardinals' 2-1 win over the Pirates in Game 4 on Monday. "He's the ace of our staff. These guys, they get a lot of energy every time he has the mound."
Wainwright has won his last five decisions, posting a 1.71 ERA (eight earned runs in 42 innings) over that stretch. He's also 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in three postseason starts (seven appearances) in St. Louis.
"It's the biggest game of the year, isn't it? That's what I always tell these guys," Wainwright said. "Every start of mine is the biggest game of the year. It's a big-time game against a good opponent, and I'm looking forward to doing it."
While it may have been a no-brainer that Wainwright would be taking the hill for St. Louis, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle had a decision to make. He could have went with Game 1 starter A.J. Burnett, who was pounded for seven runs in two-plus innings, or turn to rookie Gerrit Cole, who gave up one run in six innings to win Game 2.
In the end, it wasn't really a choice, as Hurdle went with the 23-year-old righty Cole.
"We have one game to win," said Hurdle. "As I've done and I've challenged the guys to do, we need to do the best we can to win that next game. I believe that matchup is the best we can do to beat the Cardinals in Game 5."
Cole was as good as any pitcher in baseball down the stretch, going 4-0 over his final five starts, while pitching to a 1.69 ERA. He carried that into the postseason and was more than effective versus the Cardinals on Friday, retiring 11 in a row at one point.
"It's obviously a great opportunity for me to go out there and give my team a chance to win," Cole said. "This is obviously an exciting time, a high- pressure situation, and this is what you prepare for all year. This is why you work out in the offseason, for moments like this, to be mentally and physically ready to go. It's extremely exciting and I can't wait."
The Pirates can only hope that Cole delivers the way St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha did in Game 4, as he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and helped the Cards stave off elimination.
"We did a lot of gushing about him before we even got him out there today, and I think everybody sees why," Matheny said. "I don't know if you can put a kid in a tougher spot. He came out and just made pitches all day long. He's just got a knack of getting up there and [being] very business-like getting the job done."
The Cardinals, who received an MLB-best 36 victories from rookie hurlers en route to the NL Central title, are now 7-1 in postseason elimination games over the past three years.
"I think you take high-talent and high-character people that are motivated and support each other, and they don't give up. That's a tough combination," said Matheny of his team. "It's just an honor to watch them do the thing day-in and day-out."
St. Louis survived despite managing just three hits, but one was a two-run homer from Matt Holliday off Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton that broke a scoreless deadlock in the top of the sixth. Holliday had a single earlier in the contest.
Morton (0-1) lasted 5 2/3 innings, surrendering all three hits and walking four.
"Charlie pitched extremely well," Hurdle said. "I think the cowboys say, 'he drew a tough bull today'."
Pedro Alvarez homered in Monday's loss and is the first Pirate to drive in runs his first five postseason games, and the first since Willie Stargell in 1979 to hit at least three homers in one postseason.
Since the beginning of the 2012 season and including these playoffs, Alvarez has crushed Cardinals pitching to the tune of 12 homers and 37 RBI.
Pittsburgh won the season series, 10-9, but was just 3-6 in St. Louis.
"We've played them close," Hurdle said. "It has been a very respectful, challenged series."
Wednesday's winner will play Los Angeles on Friday in Game 1 of the NLCS.
The Sports Network