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Cardinals familiar with being on the brink

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  October 29, 2013 01:36 AM

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have gone from being in control of the World Series two days ago to being on the brink of elimination after taking a 3-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 Monday night.

Their bats have gone cold, they can't create scoring opportunities and the few chances they've gotten the past two games, they've squandered.

Their fate now rests in the hands of Michael Wacha, a rookie pitcher who's hasn't played like one at any point this postseason. At 22 years old, Wacha already has the experience of both pitching in an elimination game (which he did in Game 4 of the NLDS with the Cardinals down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates) and winning in Fenway Park (which he did in Game 2), but the Cardinals realize it will take more than another dominant start from Wacha.

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(Jim David / Globe Staff)

Matt Carpenter (0 for 4) said the Cards offense has to step up.


"The fact that we're facing an elimination game on the road is not going to get to him," said Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. "Hopefully, we can come out and get the offense going for him, give him a little cushion and he can really settle in because if we can score a few runs, we feel good about our chances to win the game. We're going to have to do our part as an offense, but we've got a lot of confidence."

Wacha went six innings in Game 2, giving up two runs on just three hits with four walks and six strikeouts, attacking the Red Sox with his fastball and chasing it with his change up and he doesn't plan on changing his approach.

"Nothing really changes," Wacha said. "I've just got to go out there and make pitches and throw some effective strikes."

The biggest issues, as its been for the Cardinals all series, is what Wacha will do with David Ortiz, who is now hitting .733 after going 3 for 4 with an RBI double in Game 5.

Ortiz went 2 for 3 with a two run homer off Wacha in Game 2.

"He's a tough hitter," Wacha said. "I can't really tell you how I'm going to pitch to him."

Still, even with their backs to the wall, the Cardinals have reason to like their chances. They've been down 3-2 in the World Series six time in team history and forced a Game 7 five times. They went on to win the World Series all five times, including in 2011 when they came back to beat the Texas Rangers.

"I think it starts with a mentality that it's a great challenge," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great opportunity for us to go in and prove the kind of team we are as far as how tough we are mentally, and I think that's where it begins. After that it comes down to execution. We've got to have Michael come out and throw a big game.

"Once again, we were in that spot backed up where we had to have a win. It's not something we haven't seen before, and the guys know what we have to do; we have to play the game. They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way. Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds. And go out and play the game."

Matt Carpenter did his best to bite his tongue after home plate umpire Bill Miller rung him up looking at a 3-and-2 cutter inside from Jon Lester.

It was a tough spot for a punchout with the a runner on second and the Cardinals looking to tie the game.

The tracking tool PITCHf/x showed it being well inside, and even though he thought it was off the plate, Carpenter didn't argue.

"I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus," he said. "I mean, I didn't swing at it because I thought it was a ball. He called it a strike, so it is what it is."

The cutter was Lester's go-to pitch most of the night. He threw 38 of them, 24 for strikes.

"He just has the ability to throw that cutter that looks like it's going to hit you and then it comes around, never goes over the plate but the guy catches it for a strike," Carpenter said. "That's just not an easy pitch to throw.

"It's a pretty unhittable pitch. All you can do is foul it off, if you can even swing at it. He has a unique ability to throw that consistently and he does the same thing to righties and it just comes around the plate and it's never in a spot where you can do much to it and he had it working. When he has that going, it's a real tough fight."

Carpenter agreed with the notion that the strike zone has been pitcher friendly -- for both sides -- throughout the series.

"I wouldn't say the zone has been bad, but I would definitely say that more often than not it's gone the pitcher's way -- from both sides. On defense we've gotten some calls that could be borderline but it's gone the pitcher's way. But pitching's dominated this postseason. That's the way it goes."

The idea of Craig playing in Game 5 was something he had already discussed with Matheny.

"It was something that we had talked about a couple days ago," Craig said. "If I was feeling good enough, maybe I'd start on Monday against Lester. Yesterday, obviously I wasn't feeling good, but I woke up this morning feeling better than I expected so I thought that I should see it through and I felt good enough to contribute and I told Mike and that's why I was in there.

The ball didn't hesitate to find him. David Ortiz sent a liner slicing low and hard down the first-base line and all Craig could do was lay out for it in vain.

"I don't think I would've got it even if I was feeling 100 percent," Craig said. "He smoked it and it was hooking down the line."

He came in 4 for 9 in the series, but went 0 for 3, grounding into a double play in the second inning. Matheny said he will likely DH Craig in Boston.

"I'm obviously ready for whatever Mike asks me," Craig said.

Yadier Molina went 0 for 3 with a strikeout, ending his seven-game hit streak in World Series play.

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