Even if it is an old cliche, “one moment can change everything” is a truth in baseball, where there is no clock to govern things. For the St. Louis Cardinals, their moment came in the first inning of Game 5 of what had been a hard-fought series against the Atlanta Braves.
The Cardinals got off to a quick start by getting the one run they were hoping for after a sacrifice bunt. They then found themselves with a chance to pick up even more with Yadier Molina at the plate and runners on first and second and just one out. Molina hit a grounder to Freddie Freeman that could have turned into a double play that would have let the Braves escape the inning down just 1-0.
Instead, the grounder ate up Freddie Freeman. Molina made it to first and the bases were loaded. From then, the rest is history. The Cardinals turned that moment of defensive weakness from Atlanta’s Gold Glove first baseman into a destruction. One run turned into two after a bases loaded walk, then those two runs turned into four after a double from Tommy Edman. The Cardinals were in dreamland at that point, and still they kept scoring.
The Braves made a pitching change and brought Max Fried into the game. It was almost as if the Cardinals sensed blood in the water. Even pitcher Jack Flaherty got in the action by being patient at the plate and letting Fried walk in another run of his own. Then Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong delivered the final offensive blow with two straight doubles. The Cardinals had batted around and scored nine runs in the process.
Even the Cardinals’ outs turned into runs. St. Louis’s 10th came after a strikeout turned into a wild pitch. That’s where the inning ended — as did, effectively, the game. Atlanta was only able to muster up one run, and the Cardinals laughed their way to the NLCS.
The end of the series paralleled the Cardinals’ regular season in many ways. At the midway point of the regular season, it would have been a stretch to predict that the Cardinals would become NL Central Champions. However, they caught fire down the stretch and surged to take the division crown. They punched their ticket to the postseason with a blowout win over the Cubs on the last day of the season, giving them the right to face Atlanta in the divisional series.
Sure enough, the Cardinals saw themselves down and nearly counted out against the Braves. They had to come alive late in Game 4 — with the likes of Molina, Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt leading the way — to snatch victory and make it back to Atlanta for Game 5. Then the Cardinals crushed any doubts about them.
In true Cardinals Devil Magic fashion, a St. Louis team that was 44-44 at the All-Star break not only made the playoffs, but got home field advantage in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals are now four wins away from going back to the World Series for the first time since 2013. And yes, while it does feel like voodoo, this incredible run is also the sign of a competent organization that strives for excellence and refuses to give up during even the bleakest moments.
There’s really no telling how the NLCS will turn out, but it’ll be hard to bet against the team with home field that just got done scoring 10 runs in the first inning of a road elimination game. The Cardinals didn’t just make it to the NLCS, they sent a warning shot to the Nationals, and to anyone else who thinks they can stand in the way of what feels like yet another inevitable Cardinals team.