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Beltran's three-run belt sparks Cardinals in NLDS opener

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Beltran is up to his old postseason tricks.

His mammoth three-run homer in the bottom of the third inning on Thursday jump-started a seven-run rally that lifted the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-1 rout of Pittsburgh in the opener of the best-of-five National League Division Series.

While Adam Wainwright starred on the mound and 2011 World Series Most Valuable Player David Freese chipped in with two hits and two RBIs, it was Beltran who got the party started in front of a sellout crowd of 45,693.

Picking on a 2-1 fastball from A.J. Burnett that drifted over the middle of the plate, Beltran unloaded a 443-foot bomb that found the second deck in right field. It was his seventh homer in 51 Division Series at-bats and his 15th overall in the postseason.

"I think as a ballplayer you always dream to be able to play in postseason games and try to win a World Series," Beltran said. "You know, there is no other explanation. Just God gave me the opportunity to be in this situation and me being able to come through."

Wainwright, who walked to start the inning, found himself acting as a fan when Beltran's blast soared toward the seats.

"I threw my hands up in the air as soon as he hit it," Wainwright said. "I knew it was gone. Then I just watched it for a minute, because I knew it was gone, and then I realized I had to run. You know, so way to go, dude. Crushed that ball."

And with it, the hopes of a Pirates squad that rode into this series off the high of a 6-2 wild card win on Tuesday night over Cincinnati in its postseason appearance since 1992. Away from the noisy embrace of PNC Park, Pittsburgh couldn't carry over that success.

One of only six Pirates with postseason experience, Burnett, who was the No. 2 starter for the 2009 World Series champion New York Yankees, let the first eight men reach base in a nightmarish third inning.

He left after Freese's two-run single and a throwing error by right fielder Marlon Byrd made it 7-0. Burnett was charged with seven runs, six hits, four walks and a hit batter. More glaringly, the right-hander who averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the regular season failed to whiff any of the 16 batters he faced.

"I think there was an adjustment there he was trying to get to that he wasn't able to do with much consistency today," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "He didn't have his stuff today. I mean, that's it at the end of the day."

That wasn't a problem for Wainwright, who retired the first 11 batters he faced before Andrew McCutchen laced a single up the middle. Wainwright then set down the last nine men he faced after Pedro Alvarez crushed a leadoff homer in the fifth for the Pirates' only run.

In seven innings, Wainwright gave up just three hits, walking none and fanning nine in a dominant outing.

"He's the guy that sets the tone and gives the example of how this goes," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Wainwright. "He wasn't trying to be any different than he's been all season, and it's been an impressive run for him."

Game 2 of the series is Friday, with rookie Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22 ERA) pitching for the Pirates against Lance Lynn (15-10, 3.97). Hurdle said his team won't have any trouble bouncing back from a three-error, four-hit performance.

"Game 164 was rough," Hurdle said. "One of the things we've been real good at is we don't overcook things when we don't play well. We're down one game in the series, and we'll move on."

Meanwhile, Beltran will look to seize the moment again, as he has done on so many October days.

"This guy is just a postseason monster," Wainwright said.

NOTES: The Cardinals announced that RHP Joe Kelly would start opposite Pirates LHP Francisco Liriano when the series moves to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Sunday. Both pitchers posted three wins against the opponent this year. ... The Cardinals' seven-run inning set an NLDS record. The MLB Division Series record is held by the 2002 Angels, who touched the Yankees for eight runs in an inning. ... St. Louis claimed OF Joey Butler off waivers from the Texas Rangers. Butler, 27, received his first major league call-up on Aug. 5. He went 4-for-12 with two doubles and an RBI in eight games with the Rangers.
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