ST. LOUIS – Big swings by a slumping hitter, clutch innings by a journeyman pitcher. Suddenly, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking very dangerous.
As for the Philadelphia Phillies? Things have turned downright squirrelly.
David Freese, shut down by Phillies aces the first three games, became a hometown star Wednesday night. He homered, doubled and drove in four runs as the Cardinals defeated nemesis Roy Oswalt and forced a deciding fifth game in their N.L. playoff series by beating the favored Phillies 5-3.
“This is what you worked for,” said Freese, a local prep star who came to the Cardinals in a trade for Jim Edmonds after the 2007 season. “Just to do this in front of the fans of St. Louis and a bunch of friends and family, it’s amazing.”
Now it’s back to Philadelphia for Game 5 on Friday night. Roy Halladay, who won the opener for the Phillies, will face St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter – they played together in Toronto for five years.
“They’re good friends and old teammates, and Carp was really chomping at the bit for this opportunity to pitch against Roy on full rest in a huge Game 5,” Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. “It should be quite a battle and then it’ll be fun to watch two great competitors go head to head and two great teams get after it.”
The 102-win Phillies were picked by many to win it all. But first they must dispose of the wild-card Cardinals, who clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season and have gotten the best of two members of the Phils’ star-studded rotation.
An omen, maybe: Right after Oswalt threw a pitch in the fifth, a squirrel darted across the plate.
Oswalt argued, unsuccessfully, that the creature’s dash had distracted him on a pitch called a ball.
“I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it,” Oswalt said. “I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch.”
Edwin Jackson recovered from a rocky beginning to win his first playoff start. After giving up two runs on his first five pitches, he wound up throwing six solid innings.
The biggest jolts for the Cardinals came from their seventh-place hitter. Freese was 2 for 12 the first three games with one RBI.
Freese’s two-run double down the third-base line in the fourth put St. Louis up 3-2. His two-run homer to straightaway center in the sixth whipped the crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.