ST. LOUIS -- Those relentless Redbirds were at it again Thursday.
The postseason officially opened for the Cardinals. It looked a lot like the regular season, especially the parts where they won 17 of their last 22 games, and where their offense, given an inch, took a mile.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are the opponents for this National League Division Series. That is a fresh angle, with the Bucs making their first postseason appearance in 21 years.
But it is just as manager Mike Matheny says -- when the Cards are going well, they concern themselves primarily with themselves and their game. Their game in the opener of the NLDS at Busch Stadium was too much for the Pirates. St. Louis won handily, 9-1.
Adam Wainwright was superb for the Cardinals, but anybody who has followed his career could have predicted that level of performance with near-certainty.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Cards displayed the kind of individual and collective persistence that has characterized their offensive performance this season. They scored seven runs in that inning for an NLDS record.
The Cardinals' offense defies easy categorization. There are proven hitters here, and there can be no doubt about the production. The Cards led the NL in runs scored this season, despite the fact that they were 13th in home runs and dead last in stolen bases.
What the Cardinals did this season was hit .330 with runners in scoring position. Contrast that with the more mortal work of the other NL teams that qualified for the postseason: The Reds hit .254 with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers hit .252. The Braves hit .251. The Bucs hit .229.
So in the third inning, when granted what looked like a small opening, St. Louis turned it into a canyon. Eight straight Cards reached base, seven of them scoring.
Beltran and the Babe
It is true that the Cardinals were aided in their efforts by control lapses from Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett. In fact, the rally started when Wainwright led off by working a walk. Burnett walked three and hit a batter during the inning. But one of the reasons those walks were issued was that none of the Cards' hitters were helping him out. Staying inside the strike zone, remaining disciplined, they took what was offered. If that was a base on balls, fine.
What about that walk, Wainwright?
"I didn't walk anybody," Wainwright said with a smile.
He was right about that. But he knew that the question was about the walk that he had drawn.
"As a starting pitcher, anything you do offensively is a bonus," Wainwright said, "so I knew right there leading off an inning, I could be an automatic out and go out and not put up any kind of effort, or really try to grind [Burnett] out.
"So as a starting pitcher, your job is to try to make something happen. He's very tough, and I was lucky to work a walk there."
And then when Burnett made a mistake in the strike zone, it got hammered. The biggest blow was Carlos Beltran's three-run home run off a sinker up and over the plate. It was a magnificent blast, reported at 443 feet.
There have been three instances this season in which the Pirates have given up seven or more runs in an inning, eight being the most. All of those big innings came against the Cardinals.
"Yeah, we've had some big innings this season -- most teams have," Matheny said. "But it seems like we've had some of those that just kind of keep going. Nobody wants to make the last out. You've got to remember, that got started with a walk by our pitcher and a couple big walks in the middle. Guys stayed locked into what they were looking for. They stayed in their zone. And having a couple big blasts, like what Carlos did and a big hit by Dave [Freese] -- those are big. "
For the record, the St. Louis third inning before any outs were recorded: walk, single, home run, double, hit by pitch, walk, walk, single.
"Our offense did an amazing job, that was amazing," Wainwright said. "Our offense, seemingly, once we get something going, it's very hard to stop us. We score a lot in bunches. So when we get one of those innings going, nobody wants to make the first out. We just keep everything going and try to ride that no-out train as long as we can. We get two outs, we try to ride the two-out train as long as we can."
You don't lead the Major Leagues in scoring over 162 games by accident, by chance, by coincidence. In the case of these Cards, they also didn't lead the league by hitting loads of home runs or creating havoc with raw speed.
The Cardinals have a lineup stocked primarily with people who have already not only played in big games, but have already succeeded in big games. You've seen it often enough this year; they need a big hit, they get a big hit. Or, in this case, eight of them in a row reach base and seven of them score. Elsewhere, this would be a breakthrough. With the Redbirds, it's more like, "Hey, they're doing it again."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less