On the road to the 2011 World Championship, the St. Louis Cardinals had many important series. Their return match-up with the National League Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Championship Series was certainly a crucial and necessary gate though which to pass on the way to the top.
The series offered plenty of intrigue and concern for the Cardinals as their opponent had several advantages – on paper at least. The two clubs split their regular-season series at nine wins each, with both clubs holding a slight 5-4 edge at home. Milwaukee held the home field advantage. It seemed a major benefit as the Brewers had gone 57-24 (.704) at Miller Park during the regular season, the best home record in the Major Leagues in 2011.
Milwaukee was a perfect 15-0 in Game 1 and 5 pitcher Zack Greinke’s home starts. Their powerful lineup featured the man who would be named the league’s Most Valuable Player in Ryan Braun. Further, the Brewers would not see Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter until NLCS Game 3 because of his NL Division Series Game 5 start.
As it turned out, the Brewers did not leverage their home field advantage. They fell in six games, including losing two of three in Milwaukee, despite having to face Carpenter just once.
Games 1 and 2 were held at Miller Park. Jamie Garcia allowed five runs in the fifth which became too much to overcome as the Brewers won the opener, 9-6. Albert Pujols took over in Game 2 with three doubles, a home run and five RBI as St. Louis seized a decisive 12-3 victory. It was one of Pujols’ two signature games in the post-season. The five doubles are second-most in team post-season history and LCS history as were his three runs scored.
Returning home to St. Louis, the Cardinals’ bullpen was the star in Game 3, as Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte handled the final 12 outs flawlessly in a 4-3 Cardinals win. Veteran lefty Randy Wolf won Game 4 for Milwaukee as he worked seven innings, allowing only solo home runs to Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. St. Louis took pivotal Game 5 by a 7-1 score as the Brewers’ defense committed four of their 10 CS errors. Holliday and Yadier Molina had three hits each.
What became the final contest, Game 6, was held back in Milwaukee. David Freese launched a three-run home run in the first and the bullpen allowed just two runs over the final seven innings as the Cardinals breezed to the 12-6 clincher. It was the organization’s 18th NL pennant in team history.
The Cardinals scored first in each of the six games. Series Most Valuable Player Freese hit safely in all six games, batting .545, including three doubles, three home runs, nine RBI and six runs scored. Holliday hit .435 (10-for-23) with two doubles, one home run, five RBI and six runs scored.
With the team’s longest starting appearance just five innings in duration, the Cardinals bullpen carried a heavy load. They responded superbly, with a 1.88 ERA (six runs in 28 1/3 innings) while holding Brewers hitters to a collective .155 batting average.
In fact, the Cardinals set a new NLCS record with 28 pitching changes in the series. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals also held the old record of 26 in 1996 (a seven-game series versus Atlanta).
The Brewers may have played their last game with their star first baseman Prince Fielder, as on the Cardinals’ side, it turned out that Pujols had just seven games remaining in his St. Louis career. They turned out to be most important.