ATLANTA -- Watching Wednesday’s game unfold in the dugout, Adam Wainwright was trying hard not to taste the champagne that awaited the Cardinals in the visitors’ clubhouse of SunTrust Park.
It was only the second inning, after all.
A 10-run first paved the way for the Cardinals’ 13-1 win over the Braves in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, sending St. Louis to its first NL Championship Series since 2014 and its 14th LCS in club history. The Cards will play the Nationals, who defeated the Dodgers in the other NLDS Game 5 on Wednesday. The best-of-seven series starts Friday at Busch Stadium. Despite Washington winning more regular-season games, the Cardinals have home-field advantage by virtue of having won their division, while the Nationals got into the postseason as a Wild Card team.
“It’s real hard not to,” Wainwright said. “You put up 10 runs in the first -- my message to everyone was, ‘Hey, this game is not over. We’ve got a lot of baseball to play.’ I was trying to not taste it, but it was hard.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in person or on TV if I’m being honest with you. You can never be ready for it. You just hope you’re on the right side of it. Luckily today we were.”
The 10-run first was a Major League record for runs in the first inning of a playoff game, and the Cardinals chased Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz -- who had pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 2 -- from the game after 23 pitches.
But the Cardinals didn’t stop there. They scored as many runs (13) by the third inning as they had in the previous four games of the series combined.
“You understand that 10 runs in the first is huge, but this is playoff baseball,” Wong said. “Anything can happen. So we wanted to continue to add on, keep chipping away. Around the seventh, you had a taste that this was it.”
Before starter Jack Flaherty threw a pitch, he had come to bat -- a bases-loaded walk against his high school teammate, Max Fried -- and scored a run. But Mike Shildt managed much of the game like the Cardinals had a one-run lead. Flaherty threw 104 pitches in six innings, allowing four hits and striking out eight. Josh Donaldson's solo home run in the fourth was the Braves’ lone run.
“At some point, look, you can't -- we score 10, that's a really good team over there,” Shildt said. “So you don't want to sit there and take it lightly. You want to make sure you bring it home. Hard to start managing for the next series before you win this one. ... Once [Flaherty] got to the sixth, it was clearly enough.”
The preparations for the next series will start soon. But before they start, the Cardinals will soak in the moment of being back where they expected to be -- just four wins from the pennant.
After three years of missing the playoffs, the Cardinals won the National League Central title, but it wasn’t enough just to get to the postseason. They expected to win, too.
“We did expect this,” Wainwright said. “When we came here, we expected to win today. That’s the thing. Our expectations go beyond just getting to the postseason.”
“That’s what this organization’s all about,” Paul Goldschmidt added. “The tradition has been set by the guys way before me. That’s what the fans expect. Ownership, front office, players and coaches. That’s awesome. That’s what you want. That’s what we want to do. It’s just taking it step by step.”