ATLANTA -- After a misplayed sixth inning Thursday night, the Cardinals found their backs against the wall, down two with the momentum on the Braves’ side.
They’ve been there before. They didn’t blink.
The Cardinals scored six runs in the final two innings to win Game 1 of the National League Division Series, 7-6, against the Braves at SunTrust Park. With a win behind starter Jack Flaherty on Friday, the Cards could be looking at returning to St. Louis leading 2-0 in the NLDS.
"Any time you can win on the road in the playoffs, it’s important," Matt Carpenter said. "Especially Game 1, all the pressure is over [with the Braves]. They have to come out and try to find a way to win tomorrow, and we’ve got our ace on the mound.”
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to take the series 95 of 132 times (72%). And in Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning Game 1 on the road took the series 28 of 40 times (70%).
The Cardinals’ defense has helped them win games all season, but it was their offense that clicked Thursday and won the game.
After the Braves capitalized on the Cards’ uncharacteristic defensive miscues to take the two-run lead in the sixth, Paul Goldschmidt launched a 446-foot home run to lead off the eighth inning. St. Louis sensed a comeback in the making.
“You're down 3-1,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Their guys are getting some outs, we're still taking some good at-bats, just nothing to show for it. And then Goldy gets into one, and you know you're a swing away. Definitely got some life back to us, but I don't want to minimize that we didn't have life before that. But when you get down 3-1, next thing you know, boom, 3-2, and here we go. Big swing.”
One of the Cardinals’ strengths this year has been improving as the game goes, and that was no different in the postseason -- Goldschmidt’s big swing sparked a comeback. Against Braves closer Mark Melancon, Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong singled to bring up pinch-hitter Carpenter, who hit a two-out flare to left field and tied the game, scoring DeJong before Wong was thrown out at home by Adam Duvall.
Carpenter put the momentum on the Cards’ side, which has been his role over the last month -- to provide a strong at-bat off the bench in big situations. Thursday showed why that role is so valuable.
“Be ready for that one chance to take the lead or tie the game, whatever,” Carpenter said. “That moment came, and I was able to come through for it. When you come off the bench, you just expect that I’m going in the game knowing that one big at-bat in the game is probably going to go my way.”
The Cardinals didn’t squander Carpenter’s game-tying hit. With the bases loaded in the ninth, Marcell Ozuna smoked a two-run double down the left-field line. Wong followed with his own two-run double to provide extra insurance that the Cards ended up needing. Closer Carlos Martínez gave up three runs on homers from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman to bring the Braves within one run with one out. But Martínez got out of trouble with a groundout and a strikeout.
No sweat at all, right?
“We got what you need,” said Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who allowed one run in five innings and hit a ground-rule double. “You need some runs, we got runs. You need some defense, we got defense. Need a couple of timely outs, a couple of punchouts, we got punchouts. St. Louis Cardinals. We got what you need.”