MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Cardinals thrive in really big game vs. Dodgers

Cardinals thrive in really big game vs. Dodgers

Cardinals thrive in really big game vs. Dodgers

ST. LOUIS -- After four hours, 47 minutes and 13 innings of play, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny admitted that some big games are even bigger.

And for the Cardinals, that 3-2, 13-inning victory they pulled out in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium as Friday night turned into Saturday morning was just about as big as a postseason game can be.

"Going in, you treat them all like it's going to be the most important one we'll ever play," Matheny said. "I think the guys have really taken that approach."

Wink, wink.

NLDS

It's the postseason. The margin for error is very small. First one to win four games in this best-of-seven affair claims the NL pennant and heads to the World Series. Any loss is magnified.

But, Matheny admitted, "now that it's over and we've won, we'll say it is [more significant than most Game 1s]."

Dang right.

The Dodgers, after all, took a gamble in the NL Division Series against Atlanta and won, using Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest for the first time in his professional career to close out that best-of-five affair in four games. That gave them an extra two days to get ready for the NLCS, while the Cards were forced to go to the Game 5 winner-take-all affair in their NLDS against the Pirates and had to use the ace of their staff, Adam Wainwright, to win that game Wednesday night.

Big deal?

Real big.

That meant that while Wainwright won't be ready to make his 2013 NLCS debut until Game 3 at Dodger Stadium on Monday night (8 p.m. ET on TBS), the Dodgers had their top two starters, Zack Greinke and Kershaw, rested and ready for Games 1 and 2 at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals, meanwhile, countered with Joe Kelly, who is in his first full big league season, on Friday and will go with rookie Michael Wacha, a first-round Draft pick just 16 months ago, in Game 2 on Saturday (4 p.m. ET on TBS).

That meant the Dodgers, at least in the eyes of the oddsmakers, could quickly decimate the Cardinals' home-field advantage in the series if they met the expectation of the pitching matchups and beat the Cards in back-to-back games at Busch Stadium.

Kershaw (16-9 during the regular season) and Greinke (15-4) combined to win more regular-season games than the combined starts of Kelly, who had 15, and Wacha, who had nine.

And that meant for the Cardinals, Friday had an added significance.

"[Friday] was tough and [Saturday's] going to be another good game," said Carlos Beltran, who doubled home the first two St. Louis runs in the third, singled home the game-winner in the 13th and threw out Mark Ellis trying to score on a Michael Young fly ball to end the 10th and keep the Dodgers from adding a go-ahead run. "At the end of the day, I thank God that we were able to come out with the win."

The Dodgers, with a win Friday, would have been in a position to sweep the two games at Busch, which would have been an enviable position in light of the fact Games 3-5 will be played at Dodger Stadium. And as it is, even if they manage a split by winning behind Kershaw on Saturday, they have at least made their presence felt.

"They showed [Friday] they aren't going to give up, and we're not going to give up," said Beltran.

And after the win in a game that equaled the eighth longest in postseason history in terms of innings play, the Cards' confidence was up. A loss Friday could have weighed heavy on St. Louis, particularly for a pitching staff with six rookies, and would have created a major pressure on them to bounce back Saturday. Now, however, they have a chance to exhale.

"Obviously we knew we were facing a very good pitcher [in Greinke]," said Matheny.

Greinke, however, made one grievous mistake, and it cost him and the Dodgers early. After retiring the first eight batters he faced, he served up a two-out single to Kelly, then got ahead of Matt Carpenter 1-2 only to walk him and set up a game-tying two-run double to Beltran. Greinke allow only two other hits in his eight innings, in which he walked one and struck out 10.

It wasn't good enough, however.

While Beltran also came up with the game-winning hit in the 13th inning, as well as the game-saving play in the 10th, it was Kelly and six relievers who did the heavy lifting.

"In the beginning, emotions were flying high, and I was excited about pitching out there," said Kelly, "but it was definitely a good time and I had a lot of fun."

What was there not to enjoy for Kelly and Co.? He makes his postseason debut and he gives his team a 1-0 edge on the Dodgers in the NLCS after helping St. Louis pull out a victory against Pittsburgh in his first postseason start during the NLDS.

After Kelly gave up a two-run single to Juan Uribe in the top of the third, he and the bullpen combined to shut out the Dodgers on five hits and four walks (two of which were intentional) and strike out eight in holding the NL West champs scoreless over the final 10 innings. That single by Uribe was the only Dodgers hit in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

Neither team had too much time to celebrate -- Game 2 was scheduled to start 14 hours, 50 minutes after the last of the 389 pitches was thrown in Game 1. But that did not dim St. Louis' enthusiasm.

"[It] is going to be a good, fun day for us," Beltran said.

It, however, won't be any more fun that the Cards had Friday.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.