PITTSBURGH -- The depth of postseason chops the Cardinals have in their clubhouse, their ability to draw on overcoming adversity in the past, their knack for focusing on the job at hand, all will be put to the stiffest test of the year Monday afternoon.
After a thrilling but ultimately costly loss in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday, the Cards will have to tap all their resources to win Game 4 (2 p.m. CT on TBS) and send the best-of-five series back to St. Louis for the ultimate rubber match with the Pirates.
While some of their inexperienced players in the bullpen wound up allowing key runs in the 5-3 loss that put the Cardinals on the cusp of elimination, those October chops -- or lack thereof -- aren't what will win or lose the day for them. Lest anyone forget, only two years ago, a certain second-year third baseman delivered a magnificent postseason performance, capping it with one of the most thrilling homers in World Series history.
"There were a lot of us in 2011 that didn't have much experience, and we pulled it off," said David Freese, author of that postseason and the walk-off homer in Game 6 of that year's Fall Classic. "I don't use that as a reason for winning ballgames, especially in the postseason. I think it depends on how you're wired individually, and you can run with it. Pittsburgh, they're never going to quit, and neither will we."
The Cards certainly didn't quit in Game 3. Yet, there they stand -- backs against the wall, again.
From that 2011 Game 6 comeback, twice down to their last strike, to their amazing scurry to reach and then go deep into the 2012 postseason, the Redbirds have to believe they can conjure up whatever it is that got them through before to get through their latest October crisis.
"I hope so. I mean, it's now or never," catcher Yadier Molina said. "They have a great team. We have a great team also. It's going to be good. It's going to be fun [Monday]. We have to be ready to score early and try to win [Monday]."
The comeback Cardinals almost got it done again Sunday, twice tying up the game in dramatic fashion -- both times with postseason wizard Carlos Beltran delivering the goods, first with a two-run single, then with the Cards' first home run in Pittsburgh of the season.
It wasn't enough on this night, but the Cardinals are confident they have another trick or two up their October sleeve after coming out on the wrong end of a tough battle in Game 3, absorbing what stands as their toughest loss of the year.
"We've had them all season, most teams have," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "I've been very impressed how our club has bounced back whenever something hasn't gone exactly how we planned. They have a short memory.
"Right now, it hurts. They're going to sit on it for a little while. Tomorrow morning, they'll be ready to go."
From their 2011 heroes to their all-time postseason star down to the rookies and second-year players making their first forays into the postseason, the Cards plan to wash off Sunday's loss and come back Monday hoping for another comeback.
Kevin Siegrist, who allowed two runners he inherited from fellow rookie Carlos Martinez to score for what proved to be the winning runs in the eighth inning Sunday, has only been around the Majors since June, but he knows well enough what the Cardinals need to do.
"You have to keep going," said Siegrist, who still hasn't been charged for a run since a July 30 game in Pittsburgh. "You can't let it get to you. There's another game [Monday]. You have to take it from there."
"We've had our backs against the wall before," said Game 3 starter Joe Kelly, who battled into the sixth Sunday. "I expect nothing less than our club to come out [Monday] and play the best baseball we can to get a win and go back to St. Louis."
It's a concept that's simple enough for a postseason rookie to understand, and a concept a veteran with a long October resume understands to be quite simple: The Cards must draw on everything they have to keep their season alive.
"We've been in this situation," Beltran said. "Last year, we were in this situation a lot. So I think we're fine. We want to come here [Monday], we want to win and hopefully take the series home."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.