The most storied franchises of each league won decisive Game 5s on Friday, as the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees broke baseball hearts up and down the Beltway. One was a taut pitcher’s duel, the other dominated by offense and marked by a wild finish, but what they had in common was that both games were fitting conclusions to a Division Series round that’s a runaway winner for best week of playoff baseball ever. Let’s recap the games as we wrap up the first full round of the MLB playoffs…
St. Louis 9 Washington 7: The Cardinals have developed the reputation as the Kings of Comeback and this one makes last year’s World Series rally against Texas look positively minute by comparison. The Cards were in a 6-0 hole against Washington, who had the potential Cy Young Award winner in Gio Gonzalez on the mound. They had a deep bullpen. And St. Louis lacked the kind of depth in the relief corps that even gave you confidence they could stop the bleeding. Once again though, the Cardinals got to within an out of elimination and then staved it off.
Adam Wainwright took the mound, but had nothing. Bryce Harper tripled and homered, Ryan Zimmerman homered and Michael Morse also went deep, building the 6-zip lead by the third inning. It was the second straight time an NLDS Game 5 had seen a team go ahead 6-0, and it would also be the second time things would get interesting before it was over.
It looked like St. Louis was going to follow the same path as Cincinnati had the day before and just miss opportunities. The Cardinals cut the lead to 6-3, but left the bases loaded in the fifth when Yadier Molina flied out to right. A leadoff single went for naught in the sixth. St. Louis picked up a run in the seventh, but with two on and two out, David Freese struck out.
A Daniel Descalco home run in the eighth was perhaps the biggest sign something remarkable might be in the works—a utility infielder who’s been starting at second base, Descalco is not the hitter in the Cardinal lineup you fear. But Washington scraped out an insurance run and handed closer Drew Storen a two-run lead.
There were two outs and one man aboard. Washington manager Davey Johnson had been on the other end of comebacks before—he managed the 1986 New York Mets who won the World Series over the Boston Red Sox, the year of the infamous Bill Buckner ground ball. Now Johnson was going to end up on the other side of history.
Storen lost his control and walked two consecutive hitters. Descalco came through again with a game-tying single, and then Pete Kozma delivered another single to drive in two more runs and get the lead. Washington went quietly in the ninth.
The St. Louis lineup is stacked up and down with hitters that make it a match for any American League lineup—from Freese to Molina to Matt Holliday to Allen Craig to Carlos Beltran, the latter two of which had big performances all series long. But it’s the mark of a team that always finds a way to win that Descalco and Kozma—who had a grand total of 72 at-bats this year—would end up as the heroes.
NY Yanks 3 Baltimore 1: Just as Justin Verlander had his lights-out moment in dominating the Oakland A’s in one American League Division Series, C.C. Sabathia would prove to own this one. Sabathia, who’d worked into the ninth inning in a Game 1 win went a little bit better this time around and tossed a four-hit complete game, his big lefthanded frame willing the Yankees into the ALCS. Baltimore’s Jason Hammel pitched well on his own end, but in a series when runs were few and far between to begin with, there was no margin for error and New York was able to scrape out a couple.
Mark Teixeira singled in the fifth, and in a mark of how desperate managers were to create offense, the slugger stole second and scored on a base hit by Raul Ibanez. The Derek Jeter-Ichiro Suzuki combo created a run in the sixth with a walk and double. And Curtis Granderson broke out of a slump that, unlike other New York hitters, predates the postseason by quite a bit, when he homered.
Baltimore made its move in the eighth, scoring a run and having the bases loaded with one out. Nate McLouth, who’s been one of the few Oriole hitters capable of anything in this series struck out, and J.J. Hardy—one night removed from the extra-inning double that won Game 4 grounded to short and the best Baltimore chance went by the boards.
The League Championship Series action begins this weekend. New York is right back in action on their home field as they host Detroit for Game 1 on Saturday night. St. Louis will travel to San Francisco, a series that begins on Sunday night. TheSportsNotebook’s ALCS preview is online, and the NLCS preview will follow on Sunday morning.