Prescription for Cards: More Car-Bel in 13

Postseason star hits tying 2B, makes big throw home before heroics

October 12th, 2013

ST. LOUIS -- The game-tying hit was merely a prelude to the tie-preserving throw, which set the stage for Carlos Beltran -- Mr. October 2.0 -- to add to a postseason resume rivaled only by a select few in baseball history.

Beltran already had his fingerprints all over Game 1 on Friday night before he ever stepped to the plate in the 13th. But after creating the tie and making the save, Beltran delivered the win with an RBI single off Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen.

The walk-off knock -- the first by a Cardinals player in the postseason since David Freese's iconic home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series -- lifted St. Louis to a 3-2 victory to open its best-of-seven National League Championship Series. It was the first run scored since the teams traded RBI hits in the third inning, and it ended the longest playoff game in franchise history.

It sent the Busch Stadium crowd of 46,691 into hysteria, too, as they watched Beltran mobbed midfield by his teammates.

"It was a good team win," Pete Kozma said, before slightly altering his wording. "A good team Carlos win today."

Yeah, that would be about right.

The supporting cast was plenty impressive, with Joe Kelly navigating through high emotions and Dodgers threats early, and the bullpen providing seven scoreless innings in relief. But Friday belonged in many ways to Beltran, whose drive to get a chance to play in the World Series brings out his best each October.

Beltran now has four game-winning postseason RBIs in his career. His RBI total this month already sits at nine, three of which came on Friday. Beltran stung the Dodgers with his arm, too, throwing out the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the 10th to finish an inning-ending double play.

"That's about as good of a game that you can possibly play," said Matt Carpenter, who walked ahead of Beltran in each of the Cards' run-scoring innings. "Deep down, I knew that somehow, some way, he was going to drive that run in."

It was early Saturday morning by the time the 13th inning arrived. Neither team had scored since trading two-run hits in the third. Opting to hold back closer Jansen for a potential save situation, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sent Chris Withrow back to the mound for his second inning of work.

Daniel Descalso, who said afterward that "my job at that point was to get on base any way I could for the top of the order," dropped a one-out pinch-hit single to center. Carpenter pushed Descalso into scoring position with a walk.

And so the stage was set for Beltran, who, with Jansen now in, worked the count into his favor and then lined a 3-1 mistake to where no one had a play.

"Once I put myself into a hitters' count, I was looking for a pitch to hit," Beltran said. What he got was a pitch he later described as "right down the middle."

Descalso scored from second without a throw to end the four-hour, 47-minute affair. Only two other games in NLCS history had gone longer.

"He's basically built up a resume as one of the greatest postseason hitters of all time," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said of Beltran. "We knew that coming in. When you compound that by giving him two 3-1 counts to hit in, he knows what to do."

The timing prevented Cardinals manager Mike Matheny from having to dip further into a bullpen that had already seen six pitchers cover seven innings. That included potential Game 4 starter Lance Lynn, who earned the win with his two scoreless innings. Shelby Miller, the other Game 4 candidate, would have been next.

The 'pen inherited a tie game from Kelly and used three double plays to hold down a potent Dodgers offense. Carlos Martinez got the first of those to close the eighth. Trevor Rosenthal, in his second inning of work, used Beltran's assist to get through the 10th.

With Mattingly having lifted cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez for a pinch-runner in the eighth, the Cards intentionally walked No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez to instead take their chances with sub Michael Young. Young lifted a ball to right-center in the 10th, and Beltran, calling off center fielder Jon Jay, made the catch and throw home to nail Mark Ellis as he tried to score from third.

"I heard him coming, and he obviously has a 'plus' arm out there, so it was all his," Jay said. "It was one of those balls where either of us could have caught it, but knowing the situation right there, that's definitely a ball meant for him.'"

Catcher Yadier Molina held on to the ball as Ellis barreled through him.

"It was a great bounce for me," Molina said. "I caught it, and I made the tag."

Young hit into another double play to end the 12th. The Dodgers finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Part of that was under Kelly's watch. He left with the game tied at 2 because of some Houdini-like work he did early. Admittedly overamped in his second career postseason start -- first in the NLCS -- Kelly was nearly knocked out of the game before finishing three innings.

Kelly needed consecutive strikeouts of Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig to get out of a first-inning mess, which was mostly self-induced. With a runner on first, Kelly hit Ramirez near the ribs after getting ahead in the count, 1-2. A wild pitch pushed both runners up.

The Dodgers were swarming the bases again two innings later. After a leadoff double, Kelly walked the bases loaded during a nine-pitch sequence in which he threw just one strike. The Cardinals erased the lead runner on Puig's grounder back to Kelly, but Juan Uribe staked Dodgers starter Zack Greinke to a two-run lead with a single up the middle.

"In the beginning, emotions were flying high," Kelly said. "I was just excited to be pitching out there."

While Miller warmed up in the bullpen, Kelly found his composure and closed the inning without further damage. He rewarded Matheny's decision to stick with him, too, by following with three scoreless frames. Kelly finished with a pitch count of 95, plenty respectable considering he needed 55 to navigate through the first three innings.

The Cards were not nearly as quick to jump on Greinke, who retired the first eight batters he faced. Kelly snapped the string of outs with a two-out single in the third that turned the lineup over and sparked a game-tying rally.

Carpenter coaxed a walk to follow, and Beltran delivered a two-run double. Beltran's line drive to center bounced off the wall, under the glove of a leaping Andre Ethier, who was playing the outfield for the first time since Sept. 13. A lower left leg injury had limited Ethier to pinch-hit duty until Friday.

"I was right at the wall and just missed it by a little bit," Ethier said. "It was definitely the difference in the game right there. I got at the wall at the same time as the ball and jarred it rather than caught it."

Beltran, who now has 13 RBIs in 21 LCS games, was stranded at second. Greinke, who entered with a 2.28 ERA in five career appearances at Busch Stadium, would not allow another runner into scoring position in his eight-inning start. The Dodgers right-hander struck out 10, his first double-digit strikeout performance of the season.

With the win, the Cardinals improved their record in NLCS Game 1s at home to 5-2. It is the best such record among any NL team. Of the five previous times the Cards won the first game of the NLCS (home or away), they advanced to the World Series three times.

"We have had our fair share of extra-inning games, but none more special than that one," Carpenter said. "Winning Game 1 is huge, especially in that fashion. Whether they want to admit it or not, winning that game in that kind of scenario, that's a tough way to lose a game."