Experienced Cards embrace raucous environment
PITTSBURGH -- Much was made of the electric atmosphere at PNC Park last Tuesday, when the Pirates eliminated the Reds and fans believed they rattled Johnny Cueto in their National League Wild Card Game win. The blackout is back for the NL Division Series. The noise is, too. But the Cardinals don't believe it will be all that different than the environments of postseasons past.
As players talked about preparing for a pair of NLDS games in Pittsburgh, several said they expected the atmosphere to be similar to the ones they faced in the 2011 and 2012 NL Championship Series.
Milwaukee's Miller Park brought the added challenge of playing in an enclosed setting. AT&T Park in San Francisco is rowdy all year long -- and with the visiting bullpen nestled in right-field foul ground, nearly adjacent to the stands, it makes relievers easy targets for harassment.
The Cards anticipated that PNC Park will have a similar feel.
"The atmosphere here is amazing," Shelby Miller said. "They bring a good crowd. It's loud because it's compact. It's a good atmosphere to pitch in. You can't let that stuff get to you, but it gets crazy here. You have the fans all over you, trying to get you. You have to try to stay locked in on the mound."
Playing in hostile environments is something that has been addressed in the Cardinals' clubhouse in recent days. Holdovers from previous playoff clubs have talked to those getting their first taste about how to minimize distractions and channel noise for the positive.
"It's amazing when you hear these guys talk about environments like the one we'll have today, you talk about the intensity like this series is starting to look like," manager Mike Matheny said. "You couldn't help but see that they had a smile on their face. Not all of them always worked out for the best. But just the intensity, just the competition, those sort of things you dream about when you're coming up playing this game. You just hope that you can rise to the occasion."
After years of playing in front of so-so crowds in Pittsburgh, St. Louis did play some key games this season at a packed PNC Park. The Bucs and Cards drew sellout crowds for all three games of their final regular-season matchup in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals went 1-2 in that series. A five-game, four-date series in late July drew an average attendance of 32,406.
"I think what sometimes gets overlooked is players would typically prefer to have a live atmosphere rather than just silence," Matheny said. "And yeah, it's going to be very pro the other team while we're here, but that's still a fun environment to play in. So I encourage them to embrace it and enjoy it, because there are a whole lot of players who have played significant Major League careers that have never had a day like they'll have with the excitement and the energy."