Cardinals push Phillies to limit
ST. LOUIS - Big swings by a slumping hitter, clutch innings by a journeyman pitcher. Suddenly, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking very dangerous.
As for the Philadelphia Phillies ? Things have turned downright squirrelly.
David Freese, shut down by Phillies aces the first three games, became a hometown star last night. He homered, doubled, and drove in four runs as the Cardinals defeated nemesis Roy Oswalt and forced a deciding fifth game in their National League playoff series by beating the favored Phillies, 5-3.
“This is what you worked for,’’ said Freese, a local prep star who came to the Cardinals in a trade for Jim Edmonds after the 2007 season. “Just to do this in front of the fans of St. Louis and a bunch of friends and family, it’s amazing.’’
Center fielder Jon Jay made a sliding catch on Placido Polanco’s soft fly for the final out, and was already pointing his index finger before he got to his feet.
“We’re not looking at this like we’re just happy to be here and it’s David and Goliath,’’ Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman said.
Now it’s back to Philadelphia for Game 5 tomorrow night. Roy Halladay, who won the opener for the Phillies, will face St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter - they played together in Toronto for five years.
“They’re good friends and old teammates, and Carp was really chomping at the bit for this opportunity to pitch against Roy on full rest in a huge Game 5,’’ Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said.
“It should be quite a battle and then it’ll be fun to watch two great competitors go head to head and two great teams get after it.’’
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel agreed.
“Might be fitting that it goes down to the fifth game,’’ he said. “It’s up to us to go get it. It’s sitting right there for us. We’ve got our ace going, and we’re at home, and so everything is sitting right there.’’
The 102-win Phillies were picked by many to win it all.
But first they must dispose of the wild-card Cardinals, who clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season and have gotten the best of two members of the Phils’ star-studded rotation.
An omen, maybe: Right after Oswalt threw a pitch in the fifth, a squirrel darted across the plate.
Oswalt argued, unsuccessfully, that the creature’s dash had distracted him on a pitch called a ball.
“I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it,’’ Oswalt said. “I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch.’’
Manuel argued, but to no avail.
“Of course, being from the South and being a squirrel hunter, if I had a gun there, might have did something,’’ Manuel said. “I’m a pretty good shot.’’
Albert Pujols was hitless in four at-bats in what could have been his final home game with the Cardinals.
He received thunderous cheers every trip to the plate from a standing room crowd of 47,071, second-largest at six-year-old Busch Stadium.
Edwin Jackson recovered from a rocky beginning to win his first playoff start. After giving up two runs on his first five pitches, he wound up throwing six solid innings. Jason Motte worked a perfect ninth for his second save of the series.
Phillies cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, like Freese a St. Louis product, was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He is 0 for 8 the last two games with five strikeouts and has hit only one ball out of the infield.
“I think I’ve been a little bit anxious trying to go up and trying to make things happen instead of letting things happen,’’ Howard said. “Right now I’m just kind of jumping, so just try to recognize pitches better.’’
Oswalt had been 5-0 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 previous postseason starts, the biggest closing out old Busch Stadium and the Cardinals in 2005 to get Houston to its first World Series. The righthander also worked seven shutout innings against St. Louis in the Phillies’ NL East division clincher in mid-September.
“It’s good to get some early runs, for sure,’’ Oswalt said. “I felt pretty comfortable after that. Just two bad pitches.’’
The biggest jolts for the Cardinals came from their seventh hitter. Freese was 2 for 12 the first three games with one RBI before punishing the fourth of the Phillies’ aces.
Freese’s two-run double down the third-base line in the fourth put St. Louis ahead, 3-2. His two-run homer to straightaway center in the sixth whipped the crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.