MILWAUKEE – An afterthought in early September, the St. Louis Cardinals are taking their wild ride all the way to the World Series.
National League Championship Series MVP David Freese hit a three-run homer in the first and manager Tony La Russa turned again to his brilliant bullpen for seven sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory over the bumbling Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night.
Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NLCS.
Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on the mound against the A.L. champion Texas Rangers.
Trailing by 10 1/2 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of a monumental collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season.
Now, led by a group of no-name relievers who keep answering La Russa’s call, the Cardinals are back in the World Series for the first time since beating Detroit in 2006.
It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the N.L. Central champion Brewers, who finished with a franchise-record 96 wins.
Baseball’s best home team collapsed in the NLCS, though, losing twice at Miller Park in an error-filled flop. It was likely Fielder’s final game with the Brewers, too. He can become a free agent after the season.
Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for Edwin Jackson in the third inning.
The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte allowed just two runs. For the series, St. Louis relievers finished 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA over 28 2/3 innings.
La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS and Jackson’s start was the shortest of the postseason for the Cardinals rotation, which finished the NLCS with a 7.66 ERA. St. Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC.
Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy all homered for the Brewers, who won a major league-most 57 times at home and four straight in the postseason before losing Game 2 to the Cars.
It was the two ugly defensive performances that will likely linger for Milwaukee, which committed four errors in a 7-1 loss in Game 5 and added three more in Game 6.
The Brewers’ biggest hitters – Braun, Fielder and Weeks – finished 1 for 12.
|Hairston Jr. 3b||4||2||2||0||0||1||.391|
E—Hairston Jr. 2 (3), C.Hart (1). LOB—St. Louis 5, Milwaukee 3. 2B—Freese (3), Hairston Jr. (4), Y.Betancourt (2). HR—Freese (3), Furcal (1), Pujols (2), C.Hart (1), R.Weeks (2), Lucroy (1). RBIs—Furcal (1), Pujols 2 (9), Berkman (2), Freese 3 (9), Punto (3), Craig 2 (3), Chambers (1), C.Hart (2), Braun (6), R.Weeks (3), Y.Betancourt (5), Lucroy 2 (3). SB—Jay (1). S—Furcal. SF—Punto, Chambers. RLISP—St. Louis 1 (Furcal); Milwaukee 1 (C.Hart). RMU—Braun. DP—Milwaukee 1 (R.Weeks, Fielder).
|Rzepczynski W, 1-0||21/3||1||1||1||0||1||1.93|
|Marcum L, 0-2||1||3||4||4||1||1||16.20|
Inherited runners-scored—Hawkins 2-2. IBB—off Narveson (Y.Molina). HBP—by Dotel (C.Gomez). WP—Rzepczynski.
T—3:43. A—43,926 (41,900).