Cardinals to bring resiliency on road to Pittsburgh
Overcoming challenges all season, club confident en route to imposing scene change
ST. LOUIS -- They lost their veteran ace for the season before it even began. They lost another starter a couple of months into it, and they lost their All-Star first baseman in September.
Chances are, one loss in the National League Division Series isn't going to faze the Cardinals, even if it means they've surrendered home-field advantage to the Pirates heading to PNC Park for Game 3 (Sunday at 3:30 p.m. CT on TBS).
Having dealt with adversity all season long and come out on top of the NL Central, the tightest division race in baseball, the Cards don't figure to wither away when they hit the road for Pittsburgh to face the Pirates in front of their raucous fans.
"I guess if we had a group of guys that had never been in an atmosphere like that before, you just wonder," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after St. Louis absorbed a 7-1 defeat at home in Game 2. "But we've had a lot of conversations, small groups and as a club, guys talking about the energy they get even from the other team and the other team's fans. That's something that you don't get to experience all the time, so we encourage our guys to enjoy it."
Heading into confines that have proven to be unfriendly to opponents in more ways than one, the Cards are knotted up with the Bucs.
Best regular-season road record in the National League
* -- still alive in postseason
Sure, Pirates fans are going to be loud and proud for Pittsburgh's first Division Series game, and that's OK with the Cardinals.
"I hope so," catcher Yadier Molina said of the potential for a loud atmosphere. "We've been in this situation before many times. I don't think anything's going to bother us."
That certainly has been the case over the course of the season. They entered it without Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation, and they lost Jaime Garcia to injury, too -- filling in with rookies and second-year players on the starting staff by season's end. They also were dealt a blow with Allen Craig's foot injury in September, only to have Matt Adams step in and step up with power.
Resiliency has been a key to their success this year, to be sure, and the Cards head into Pittsburgh with the mentality that they'll bounce back once again after losing home-field advantage with the Game 2 loss.
"We're battle-tested," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "We've got guys in here who know what it takes to play in these big games, and what's at stake. I feel good about where we're at. Obviously, we'd have liked to have won today, but we're going to come out Sunday ready to go."
Best regular-season home record in the National League
* -- still alive in postseason
"We'll be good, man," said Carlos Beltran, the team's elder statesman and postseason star. "It's going to be a fun trip to Pittsburgh. We've had good series there, and we've had rough series there also. In this type of game, you never know what's going to happen."
The good news for the Cardinals as they prepare to don their gray uniforms is that they were one of the NL's top road teams in 2013, going 43-38 (.531), good for the third-best road record among NL teams, behind the Dodgers (45-36, .556) and the Pirates (44-37, .543).
The bad news is that the Bucs were the third-best home team (50-31, .617) in the league, winning seven of the 10 meetings with St. Louis in Pittsburgh this year. Oh, and their Game 3 starter is left-hander Francisco Liriano, who went 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three starts against the Cards this season.
Still, for the Cardinals, it's all good. This wasn't necessarily how they scripted it, but they didn't figure on all the challenges they overcame this year, either.
As the Cards head out of town with a home split, they figure this series between teams that battled it out all season long to a slim 10-9 advantage for the Pirates has a good chance of returning to Busch Stadium for a fifth and deciding game.
"There's no doubt that it could go all the way," Beltran said. "Right now, we feel we have to go there and play good games. We have to pitch well, we have to do everything right, because they play well at their house."
"You know it's going to go down to the wire, I think a lot of people expect that," said David Freese. "But we just got to come out, and obviously Liriano has done a heck of a job against us. That place is going to be rocking, but we're going to be ready. [It's] 1-1, it's not going to get any better than that."