October 14, 2011: Cardinals capitalize on Brewers’ errors to win NLCS Game 5

It’s an old baseball axiom that pitching and defense win championships. The Cardinals certainly used that formula to beat the Brewers 7-1 in Game 5 of the 2011 NLCS.

With the series tied 2-2, the Cardinals pounced on four Brewers errors and once again relied upon a bullpen that had allowed just four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings in the series.  

“It was a big game for them but it was a bigger game for us,” said Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman. “You don’t want to have to go back to Milwaukee and have to win two games back to back. It’s going to be tough to win one game.”[1]

Game 5 was a rematch of Game 1’s pitching matchup, with Jaime Garcia taking the mound for the Cardinals against the Brewers’ Zack Greinke. Neither pitcher had much success in the series opener. Greinke earned the win despite allowing six runs over six innings, while Garcia took his second loss of the postseason after allowing six runs over four innings.

While Game 5 proved to be a much-improved outing for Garcia, it was a disappointing outing for Greinke. After the 2009 Cy Young Award winner cruised through a 1-2-3 first inning, the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the second.

Berkman led off the inning with a line-drive single into center. Two batters later, Greinke hit David Freese with a pitch and Yadier Molina followed with one of his three hits on the night, a double into right field that scored Berkman. With two outs, Garcia hit a ground ball that went between the legs of Brewers third baseman Jerry Hairston, who had just made a nice diving catch on a Nick Punto line drive. Freese and Molina both scored on the play to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0.

“I look back at it and there’s nothing I would have done different,” Hairston said. “The pitch was up. He’s a good athlete, so I’m playing up because he might bunt for a hit. He hits a rocket and it hits the lip and just stays down. Sometimes at the hot corner at third base, you’re at the mercy when a guy hits a bullet. He hit a bullet and it just stayed down.”[2]

St. Louis played a bit of small ball in the fourth, as Freese and Molina each singled. After running down to the third base coach’s box to make sure he’d read the sign from Jose Oquendo correctly, Punto laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third. Freese scored when Garcia grounded out to the shortstop to make the score 4-0.

Punto credited the run to Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

“Tony’s creative,” Punto said. “His thinking was ‘get them over’ and we might get lucky with the pitcher, and if we don’t, we might get lucky with (Rafael) Furcal coming up and runners at second and third, and that’s what happened. Tony’s always a step ahead. It was a great call and it worked out.”[3]

Milwaukee got on the board in the fifth when Corey Hart hit an RBI single off Garcia. When Hairston followed with a single into left field, bringing Ryan Braun to the plate with two runners on, La Russa turned to his bullpen. Octavio Dotel, the 37-year-old right-hander acquired from the Blue Jays in July, struck out Braun to end the inning, then returned to the mound in the sixth to retire the side in order.

“Righty against righty is better than lefty against lefty,” said Dotel, who had eight strikeouts against Braun in 10 career meetings. “I guess I’m lucky against him.”[4]

“I wasn’t shocked at all by the move,” Berkman said. “If it was the regular season, yeah, I would’ve been surprised, but it’s not. It’s the playoffs. It’s a situation where it’s better to make a move too early than to make it too late.”[5]

The Cardinals added another run in the sixth when Furcal hit a two-out double and Jon Jay reached on an error by Brewers shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Albert Pujols capitalized on the extra opportunity with a single to left that scored Jay and gave the Cardinals their third unearned run of the evening.

With a 5-1 lead, Lynn threw a scoreless seventh inning. After Hart and Hairston each reached base in the eighth, Lynn retired Braun and Marc Rzepczynski entered the game to strike out Braun. With four outs remaining, Jason Motte was called upon to retire Rickie Weeks to close out the eighth inning.

Matt Holliday hit a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth, extending the lead to 7-1 before Motte retired the side in order in the ninth. With Motte’s perfect ninth, the Cardinals’ bullpen had a 0.82 postseason ERA.

“It was a very important game for us, a must-win,” Holliday said.[6]

Dotel earned the win after striking out two of the four batters he faced.

“I feel like I saved the game,” Dotel said.[7]

Garcia threw 4 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits and no walks. He struck out five.

Greinke took the loss for the Brewers after allowing five runs – two earned – in 5 2/3 innings.

“He can’t control the defense,” Berkman noted.[8]

Holliday and Molina each had three hits for the Cardinals. Holliday’s three hits represented a big step forward for the slugger in his recovery from a hand injury that kept him out of the starting lineup in the first three games of the NLDS. In the NLCS, La Russa moved Holliday out of his traditional cleanup spot after La Russa said it was “unfair” to the left fielder.[9]

Now Holliday and the Cardinals were just one win away from the World Series.

“We didn’t play our best game and they took advantage of it,” Hairston said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t give that team extra outs, any big-league team, but especially that team. It was a little uncharacteristic of us.”[10]


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[1] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[2] Dan O’Neill, “Brewers’ bungling adds up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Punto gets a chance, does the right things,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[7] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Bullpen does it again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Holliday is back on track,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

[10] Dan O’Neill, “Brewers’ bungling adds up,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2011.

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