After narrowly escaping his ineffectiveness in Game 1, the Carlos Martinez Octobercoaster caused St. Louis to yack up a pivotal Game 3 at home, and cede a 2-to-1 NLDS series lead to the Atlanta Braves. A three-run Braves’ ninth on the back of three hits and two walks spoiled a timeless, if sometimes harrowing, 7.2 shutout innings from 38-year-old Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, and sent 47,000 fans home in stunned silence.
Up until the twist, Planet of the Apes-y ending, St. Louis had maintained a loose grip on a 1-0 lead first captured on a second-inning Matt Carpenter sac fly, enabled by an earlier Marcell Ozuna double. Throughout the six innings that followed, the Cardinals survived several well-struck fly balls that momentarily stopped the collective heart of Busch Stadium, before they died at the warning track and fell harmlessly into the waiting glove of Dexter Fowler. A Ronald Acuña Jr. laser in the third (107 mph off the bat), a Nick Markakis golf shot (100 mph) in the fourth, and a hanging curveball to Matt Joyce (102.5 mph) in the seventh all amounted to nothing more than a few seconds of concern.
Then came the ninth inning. A leadoff double by Josh Donaldson (who was replaced at second base by human blur Billy Hamilton) immediately put the tying run in scoring position. Consecutive Martinez strikeouts forced Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to make a two-out decision. Either a) have Martinez face lefty-hitting catcher Brian McCann, or b) walk McCann so Martinez could face the right-handed Dansby Swanson, who had doubled off of Wainwright earlier in the game. Shildt chose to face Swanson, who obliterated a first-pitch hanging slider and tied the game on his second double. Adam Duvall followed with a less emphatic, but more significant, single that plated Rafael Ortega (who ran for McCann) and Swanson. Read the rest of this entry »