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Win or lose, Cardinals keep even keel in postseason

Behind Matheny's leadership, St. Louis ready to push toward championship goal

PITTSBURGH -- To the outside world, the St. Louis Cardinals have scaled the heights and plumbed the depths, all in the first two games of their National League Division Series.

They were at the summit of Mt. Everest for Game 1 and in the vicinity of Death Valley for Game 2.

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After Adam Wainwright's brilliant start and an accompanying powerful offensive output it was obvious that the Cardinals were unstoppable and a three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed like the most reasonable conclusion to this event.

After being stopped cold in Game 2 by Gerrit Cole, after Lance Lynn gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings, it seemed just as obvious that the Redbirds had suddenly found themselves in a dicey situation. They are headed to PNC Park where they were only 3-7 this season. In Game 3 they will have to face Francisco Liriano, who was 8-1 with a 1.47 ERA at PNC this year. And that was before he beat Cincinnati in the Wild Card Game. Don't even get into his record against the Redbirds.

And then there was the prospect of a potential Game 5. Previously, the thought was that this would be Wainwright's turf and the Cards couldn't lose. What if the Pirates went with Cole, on regular rest, rather than A.J. Burnett, who the Cardinals knocked around in the opener? Suddenly, this scenario wasn't in the sure-thing category, either.

But this is all from the outside looking in. For the Cardinals, the term "even keel" does not describe an approach. It is much closer to the preferred way of life.

The Cardinals will play the Pirates in Game 3 of the NL Division Series at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. They will not show up with a load of left-over negativity. If they had won Game 2, they wouldn't be euphoric for Game 3, either. But they won't be fighting off a bad case of the blues, the disappointments, or the what-ifs.

PNC Park will be a storm of pro-Pirates emotion, as Pittsburgh fans continue to celebrate the end of a 21-year postseason drought. For the Cardinals, this is nothing to fear, but something to savor.

"It's going to be fun," said Joe Kelly, who will start Game 3 for the Redbirds. "That's what playoff baseball is about. You dream about it as a little kid. It's going to be a great time. The atmosphere is going to be electric, obviously. And I think our side is looking forward to it. And their side is obviously going to look forward to it. And we're going to go out there and have a good ballgame."

Kelly has done well at PNC Park, and he has been even better than that, when starting after a St. Louis defeat. Once again, this is beginning to sound like fun not only for the Cardinals, but for their legions of loyal supporters.

Manager Mike Matheny, in charge of keeping the keel even, has absolutely no concerns about his club in regard to its postseason equilibrium.

"We've had this all year," Matheny said after his club had worked out at PNC Park. "The team has bounced back well from having some tough losses. Every club does through a long season.

"I've been very proud of how the guys haven't worn a loss longer than what they need to. They need to wear it for a little time, let it sit and fester, and everybody needs to realize that's not what we're looking for. Make the adjustments and get right back at it the next day. I think our guys have taken a very professional approach in that regard."

This is why the Cardinals have not changed their basic game day approach for the postseason.

"The philosophy is why would we do anything differently now?" Matheny said. "For a couple reasons: one, guys have played pretty well with the approach that way and, two, I believe and it's a message that we give to these guys starting in Spring Training -- if we go about our business in a certain way and we ask you to perform in a certain way, we start that in March when we started our first games, then you'll be asked nothing different when we get to October, if we're fortunate enough to get there."

Why indeed would they change what they were doing, how they were reacting to victory and defeat? They had 97 victories, the best record in the National League. The extreme ups and downs of the first two Division Series may have tested other peoples' emotional range, but the real test for the Cardinals, as usual, will be what happens next.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals, Joe Kelly