Five hits by the first five hitters. Seven hits and five runs in the first inning. And only two hits given up and a season-high 11 strikeouts recorded in nine innings by right-hander Chris Carpenter.
That recipe Wednesday night earned the Cardinals an 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros, their 90th of the season, and enabled them to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in major league history. The Cardinals claimed the National League wild-card berth after being 10 1/2 games behind the Braves on Aug. 25.
The Cardinals, who won 23
of their last 32 games, oddly owe much to the team they now will play -- the
Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils, though they had clinched the NL Eastern
championship and home-field advantage through the playoffs, beat the Braves
three straight games in
The Cardinals were only 67-63 on Aug. 24 after losing three straight games at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and manager Tony La Russa called a meeting with his players to discuss the rest of the season.
"After that Dodgers series, we talked about not embarrassing ourselves, but going out and playing hard the rest of the year," Carpenter said.
"We could have laid down a long time ago. We were already out of it. People were telling us we were done. Everybody thought we were out of it. We just decided to go play and not embarrass ourselves."
Carpenter, who has 14 no-decisions, finished 11-9 after starting out 1-7.
"That's one of the best games I've ever seen him pitch," injured right-hander Adam Wainwright said.
La Russa said Yadier Molina told him that catching Carpenter "was like playing catch."
Right-hander Kyle Lohse,
who was slated to start a potential wild-card play-in game Thursday against
SS Rafael Furcal (strained left hamstring) and LF Matt Holliday (strained tendon in right palm) sat out the regular-season finale. Furcal might be ready to play Saturday in the playoff opener. Holliday said he would take a cortisone shot Thursday to relieve the discomfort in his hand, and he, too, hopes to play Saturday, although manager Tony La Russa said he was not optimistic. Holliday had to come out of Tuesday's game when the injury he originally suffered Sept. 13 acted up.
1B Albert Pujols, whose strong second half helped the Cardinals rally for a playoff berth, came up short on his bid for an 11th consecutive season with at least 30 homers, 100 RBI and a .300 average. He finished with 37 homers, 99 RBI (he had one in the first inning Wednesday) and a .299 average.
LF Allen Craig, filling in for LF Matt Holliday (palm), hit his 11th homer of the season and second in two nights. "He's played great," Holliday said. "We didn't miss a beat."
C Yadier Molina won the team batting title, hitting a career-high .305. He also had single-season bests in home runs (14) and RBI (65). "I feel good," Molina said. "That's why I had a great year, because my body was in shape."
1B Albert Pujols credited the July deals that brought in such veterans as RHP Octavio Dotel, LHP Arthur Rhodes, SS Rafael Furcal and OF Corey Patterson for helping team chemistry. "They brought some new life to the clubhouse," Pujols said. "They brought some different energy that we needed."
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Consecutive series the Cardinals won to finish the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the first chapter. We have three more."
- C Yadier Molina, on the Cardinals looking ahead to three potential playoff series.
LF Matt Holliday (strained tendon in right palm) re-injured his hand Sept. 27 and left the game, and he didn't play Sept. 28. He plans to get a cortisone shot Sept. 29, and he hopes to play in the opener of the NL Division Series.
SS Rafael Furcal (strained left hamstring) left the Sept. 26 game, didn't play Sept. 27-28. He hopes to be ready for the playoff opener.
RHP Adam Wainwright (Tommy John surgery in February 2011) went on the 60-day disabled list March 25. He will miss the entire 2011 season. Wainwright was getting closer to throwing a full-strength bullpen session in September, but he will not be allowed to throw his signature curveball until next year.
Sat., October 1 at PHILLIES: Pitchers TBA, Time TBA (TBS, ESPN Radio).
VIDEO FROM FOXSPORTSMIDWEST.COM
Chris Carpenter and Tony La Russa share thoughts following the victory over Houston Wednesday night.
The Cardinals sat in the Houston clubhouse waiting for the Braves game to end.
The Cardinals share their thoughts on clinching the National League wild card after shutting out Houston.
Cardinals share how Torty the Tortoise brings the club good luck as they celebrate in Houston.