First inning again fruitful for Cardinals

First inning again fruitful for Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- It was another fast and furious first inning for the Cardinals on Wednesday night.

St. Louis stormed out to a four-run lead in the first inning, extending its streak to five straight postseason games of scoring in its first at-bat.

There is some historical significance to the accomplishment, as the Cards are the fourth team in the postseason to score in the first in at least five consecutive games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last do so were the 2004 Red Sox. The '03 Cubs also had a string five in a row.

The Mets in 2000 put together a stretch of six straight, which the Redbirds are in position to match in Game 4 on Thursday.

By jumping out quickly, the Cardinals were able to clip the Brewers, 4-3, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

"It was one of those things where it just happened so fast, and we had four runs," Jon Jay said. "It was big to set the tone early like that. We didn't score any more runs, but we set the tone, and battled the rest of the game."

Striking quickly off Milwaukee ace Yovani Gallardo was important, because he settled after the first. Rafael Furcal revved up the inning with a leadoff single, and he advanced to second on a wild pitch. Jay's RBI double opened the scoring.

"We need that, especially when you've got a guy like Gallardo," Furcal said. "He's a pretty good pitcher, one of the best pitchers in the National League. When you're aggressive in the first inning, I think that helps the starter on your team."

Jay's double came on Gallardo's 11th pitch.

Overall, the Cardinals have scored in the first inning in six of their eight postseason games.

After Wednesday's win, the Cards were 1-1 in the games in which they didn't score in the first inning. When they push across a first-inning run, they're 4-2. In the NLCS, the Redbirds have scored 22 total runs, with seven coming in the first inning. They've limited the Brewers to two runs in the first, both in Game 1.

St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter also had his struggles in the first inning, but kept Milwaukee off the board.

The Brewers had two on and one out before Prince Fielder lined into a double play. Fielder laced the ball to center, where Jay made the catch. Jay was able to double up Mark Kotsay, who misread the liner and was unable to get back safely to second.

"Both offenses noticed that the starters were not sharp early, and they came out and had some fun," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The starters got better and the relievers were better."

The first six St. Louis batters reached.

After Jay's double, Albert Pujols delivered an RBI ground-rule double, and with the bases loaded after walks to Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, the third run scored on Yadier Molina's 4-6-3 double play. Molina's double play came on Gallardo's 27th pitch, marking the first outs of the inning.

As prolific as the Cards' offense has been early, they might have padded their numbers even more if not for three double plays in the first inning in the postseason.

David Freese capped the inning with a run-scoring double on a ball that was just out of right fielder Corey Hart's reach in right-center. Nick Punto was then intentionally walked before Carpenter grounded out to end the inning.

"Off the bat, it kind of got off the end a little bit, and I thought Hart was going to snag it," Freese said. "It kind of got by his glove, and we were fortunate to get that run."

The quick-strike offense, Freese said, sends a message.

"It's just focus," said the Cardinals third baseman. "Especially in the postseason, they're going to throw out pitcher after pitcher who can bury you, if you're not ready to go.

"I think the key in the postseason is to get out to a fast start and just show the team that you're here and that they're going to have a hard night."

The Cards collected four hits in the inning, with three doubles. They added three walks, and nine batters came to the plate.

Gallardo tossed 33 pitches in the inning, with 16 strikes.

"That's what you've got have to win these playoff games," Berkman said. "You've got to have guys up and down the lineup contribute. David's been great for us. He's a clutch hitter. He had another big game.

"Tonight, it wasn't any one guy. Everybody kind of chipped in. I think most of the lineup had a hand in scoring those four runs. After that, it was about pitching and playing defense. We did a good job."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.