ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright held the hug with catcher Yadier Molina a few extra seconds, soaking in his latest pressure-packed performance for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’ve got to put it right up there with the most fun and one of the greatest moments of my career so far,” Wainwright said. “Those are the kind of moments that starting pitchers live for. I almost didn’t want to let go of Yadier.”
Wainwright went all the way on the mound Wednesday night, pitching the Cardinals past the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 and into the NL Championship Series for the third straight season.
David Freese and Matt Adams each hit a two-run homer, and Wainwright scattered eight hits for his second dominant win of the division series.
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“I wanted it bad. It’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Wainwright said. “I don’t get a whole lot of nerves when I pitch. Before I pitched today, I was pretty nervous.”
For three years now, nobody is better than the Cardinals when they can’t afford to lose. And after coming through again in a winner-take-all Game 5, St. Louis gets to stay at home to open the NLCS against the well-rested Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
By ending Pittsburgh’s storybook season, the Cardinals improved to 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the past three years. They also won Game 5 of the NL Division Series in Washington last year — even though Wainwright got rocked — and at Philadelphia in 2011.
“We’ll take him on the mound any day, especially in a big situation,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “I love the fact that everybody kept asking him about Game 5 last year because I knew that was just bringing even more to the table, if you could even do that.”
Freese homered in the second inning off rookie Gerrit Cole, and Adams connected in the eighth against reliever Mark Melancon to make it 5-1. Pete Kozma added a run-scoring infield single, and Wainwright finished it off by striking out Pedro Alvarez with two on.
“I’m just so fired up for this team and this city right now,” Wainwright said.
Alvarez became the first major-league player with a run batted in in his first six postseason games on a fluke hit that caromed off first base in the seventh. But the Pirates, who stopped a record streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons this year, were held to one run in each of the final two games of their first playoff appearance since 1992.
“We were able to take a huge step forward this year in restoring the pride and the passion of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization,” manager Clint Hurdle said, “and rebonding our city with a ball team.”
Despite their charming turnaround and a victory over Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game, the Pirates haven’t won a postseason series since the 1979 World Series.