Looking to become Major League Baseball’s champions for the second time in four seasons, the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals again took the Central Division title. With only the third-best record for a division-winner, however, it meant the team did not have home field advantage in the National League Division Series.
In the LDS, the Cardinals faced a familiar foe, the Los Angeles Dodgers, winner of the West Division and the club with MLB’s highest payroll. The favored Dodgers also had a 4-3 edge over St. Louis in the regular season, but none of that mattered.
After a road split, Cards pitching held Los Angeles hitters to just three runs while taking Games 3 and 4 at Busch Stadium. In the process of winning the series, three games to one, the Cardinals defeated Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw twice.
Here is how it unfolded.
In Game 1, hopes were high with the Cardinals starting well-rested but sore-elbowed 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who opened the DS for the third consecutive year. Instead of a pitching duel with Kershaw, Wainwright lasted just 4 2/3 innings and the game turned into a slugfest, won by the Cardinals, 10-9.
St. Louis overcame a five-run deficit, capped by Matt Carpenter’s go-ahead three-run double in the Cardinals’ eight-run seventh inning. St. Louis held on, with Trevor Rosenthal blowing a 100-mph fastball past Yasiel Puig with a runner on third to end the nearly four-hour game.
Earlier, Puig’s plunking by a Wainwright pitch, on top of prior bad blood between the two clubs, triggered a benches-clearing scrum. There were no ejections but emotions continued to run high through the remainder of the series.
The Dodgers turned the table, taking a 3-2 victory in Game 2. The Cards had come back to tie on Carpenter’s two-run home run in the top of the eighth, but did not enjoy it for long. Los Angeles’ very next batter, Matt Kemp, put his club back on top. This time it was for good with his long ball hit off all-star reliever Pat Neshek.
On a rainy night in St. Louis for Game 3, the seventh inning was once again key as Kolten Wong’s two-run home run snapped a tie score and powered the Cardinals to a 3-1 win. The other home team tally came home via Carpenter’s third home run in three DS games.
A major reason the Cardinals added veteran John Lackey was for big October performances and that is what they received in Game 3. The right-hander gave up one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out eight.
Again, it was not easy going in the ninth as two runners reached against Rosenthal before he earned his second save of the series. The Busch grounds crew deserved an assist as they were called out to put drying agent on the mound, giving the closer time to collect himself before securing the final two outs.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made the decision to start his ace Kershaw on short rest in what was an elimination game for his team in Game 4. It did not matter, as St. Louis’ 3-2 win ended Los Angeles’ post-season hopes on the Busch Stadium turf for the second consecutive year.
Once again, the Cardinals came back from a deficit in the seventh inning. This time, Matt Adams’ three-run blast off Kershaw sealed St. Louis’ return trip to the World Series.
Par for the course, Rosenthal made it interesting in the ninth. The closer allowed two baserunners before inducing a Carl Crawford ground ball for the 27th out and his third save.
The Cardinals’ tally of seven home runs in the DS was most improbable. In fact, despite the series being just four games, the total was the most ever in any post-season series by a club that finished the regular season last in the league in home runs (according to Elias).
Offensively, this series was all about Carpenter, a player whose regular season was down from his very high level in 2013. Along with his three home runs, the third baseman also smacked three doubles and drove in seven. That was as many RBI as his two next-closest teammates combined. His DS line was .375/.412/1.175/1.587.
Jon Jay led the team in batting average at .455, but was usually left on base, scoring just one run. As a team, St. Louis batted just .238, with Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk at the Mendoza Line or below.
To set up his pair of wins, Marco Gonzales tossed three scoreless frames of relief. Lackey allowed just one run in seven innings, while Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller were each charged with two earned in six and 5 2/3 frames, respectively.
The Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series next.
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