Cardinals' confidence peaks behind Wainwright

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals used 20 rookies to help them win the National League Central title. Thus, it seemed only fitting that a first-year player would have a major role in keeping their season alive.

Right-hander Michael Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and combined with two other rookies, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, on a one-hitter as the Cardinals beat the Pirates 2-1 Monday in Pittsburgh to even the best-of-five National League Division Series at two games each.

The winner-take-all Game 5 is set for Wednesday at St. Louis, with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright facing Pirates rookie Gerrit Cole.

"We're always excited to see Adam Wainwright on the mound. He's the ace of our staff," manager Mike Matheny said. "These guys, they get a lot of energy every time he has the mound."

Wacha lost the no-hitter when Pedro Alvarez hit a one-out home run in the eighth to draw the Pirates within a run. Wacha, 22, struck out nine and walked two while pitching at least seven innings and allowing one run or fewer for the fourth time in his 10 major league starts.

"For Michael to come out and pitch like that in his first time pitching in the postseason, I think that's a testament to him personally," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said. "Since he got called up, he's carried himself extremely well for a guy that's not far out of college.

"To come out on the stage like this in a game where your back is against the wall and to pitch into the eighth inning, allowing such little against a really good hitting lineup at home -- I think a lot of that goes to him."

Now the ball goes to Wainwright in Game 5. He dominated the Pirates in the series opener, limiting them to one run and three hits in seven innings after going 19-9 with a 2.92 ERA in 34 regular-season starts while leading the NL in victories.

Wainwright was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA against the Pirates in three regular-season starts this year and is 9-4 with a 4.81 ERA against them in 22 career games, including 18 starts. Cole is making just his 21st career start. But if his first playoff impression was any indicator, the stage won't be too big for the 23-year-old.

Cole shut down the Cardinals in Game 2, holding them to one run and two hits in six innings in his first start against St. Louis.

A.J. Burnett was the Pirates' acknowledged ace since they acquired him on eve of spring training last year in a trade with the New York Yankees.

However, the 36-year-old right-hander is being bypassed for the winner-take-all Game 5.

Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle instead decided to go with Cole. The rookie won Game 2, his first career appearance against the Cardinals, and the first overall pick in the 2011 draft was convincing in doing so, whereas Burnett wobbled early and often in Game 1.

"It's a difficult decision because (Burnett) has meant so much, we've asked so much of him while he's been here," Hurdle said. "It has been a very challenging park for him. If this was any other venue, he would have gotten the ball. But for me, in this venue in this game, Cole is going to be our guy."

Burnett was tagged for seven runs in two-plus innings while taking the loss in Game 1. That makes him 1-3 with a 15.50 ERA in five career starts at the latest version of Busch Stadium.

"We have one game to win," Hurdle said. "As I've done and I've challenged the guys to do, we need to do the best we can to win that next game. I believe that matchup is the best we can do to beat the Cardinals in Game 5."

NOTES: Wainwright has 20 career strikeouts in 64 combined at-bats from Pedro Alvarez, Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones. He's had less luck against CF Andrew McCutchen, who is a .429 hitter (12 of 28 with six extra-base hits), and C Russell Martin (9 of 22, .409 average). ... Hurdle said Burnett didn't take being bypassed for the Wednesday start sitting down, but the manager expected nothing less from the veteran right-hander. "A.J. wants the ball every day he's scheduled to pitch. That's one of the things that's gotten him to the point-- this point in his career and having success that he's had. So by no means ... you want to treat men professionally. Sometimes we don't agree on things." ... Carlos Beltran is 4-for-14 in the series, but two of his hits are home runs. He's driven in six with three walks. But Hurdle won't tip his hand as to whether the Pirates will pitch around him. "That's always a tough call for a manager. You believe you can get balls to spots that you can get some outs," Hurdle said. "Then when you don't, you are kind of like duh. Would've, could've, should've. Beltran has been doing this for years as we're all aware." ... The Cardinals believe they are still alive in this series because their pitching staff kept the Pirates 1-2 batters, Starling Marte and Neil Walker, off base in the first four games. Walker went 0-for-3 Monday and is 0-for-16 in the series in his postseason debut. The speedy Marte went 0-for-4 Monday and is just 1-for-15 (.067) in the series.
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