St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals survive to see Game 5 against Braves in classic NLDS

Yadier Molina added to his Cardinals legacy on Monday with a walk-off RBI in the 10th inning that forced a fifth and deciding game of the NLCS in Atlanta.

The St. Louis Cardinals received help from their 37-year-old catcher to extend their season on Monday and force a fifth and decisive game of the NLCS. On Wednesday, they’ll turn to their 23-year-old ace to finish the job.

Yadier Molina’s two-out single off the glove of Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the eighth inning tied the game with the Cardinals just four outs away from elimination. In the bottom of the 10th, it was Molina who came through yet again, hitting a sacrifice fly to left that scored Kolten Wong from third base for the winning run in a 5-4 victory at Busch Stadium, tying the NLDS at two games apiece. It’s the eighth walk-off win in Cardinals postseason history and first since Wong hit a home run to beat the Giants in Game 2 of the 2014 NLCS.

It was another late rally in a series that’s already seen a fair share of them. In three of the four games, the team that went into the eighth inning trailing came back to win. The only time the respective bullpens managed to hold down a lead came in Game 2 when Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz helped shutout the Cardinals and beat Jack Flaherty.

It will be the same pitching matchup as that second game when the two teams meet at SunTrust Park in Atlanta on Wednesday for the right to advance to the NLCS. Both Flaherty and Foltynewicz will be pitching on full rest and available to go as long as it takes into the game.

Flaherty didn’t have quite as good a performance as Foltynewicz in Game 2, but he was still solid. He went seven innings while giving up three runs, two of them on an Adam Duvall home run in the seventh.

It’s a stark dichotomy between the Cardinals’ Game 4 hero and the player who will look to add his name to Cardinals lore on Wednesday. Flaherty was just eight years old when Molina made his debut for the Cardinals in 2004. They’re separated in age by 14 years, but together as battery mates they managed to make some magic this season.

Flaherty made 15 starts after the All-Star break in what was one of the greatest runs by any pitcher in history. He finished with a 0.91 ERA in the second half, the third-lowest mark by any pitcher with at least 10 starts since the first All-Star game was played in 1934. Jake Arrieta had a 0.75 ERA in 2015 and Stephen Strasburg had a 0.86 ERA in 2017. The three runs he gave up to the Braves in Game 2 tied the most he’s given up since July.

For Foltynewicz, the strong outing he had in Atlanta was redemption of sorts after a disappointing year. Coming off his first All-Star appearance in 2018, the Braves right-hander went just 8-6 this season with a 4.54 ERA. But, like Flaherty, he also ended the year on a high note, giving up just five runs in 30 innings in September. The Braves have lost just once in his last 13 starts.

If both pitchers are on their game on Wednesday, offense will be hard to come by. But that’s nothing new for both teams this series. With the exception of Ronald Acuna (8-16) and Dansby Swanson (7-14), the Braves’ top hitters have been quiet. Freddie Freeman is batting .125, Josh Donaldson .133, and Nick Markakis .176. Adam Duvall leads the club with 5 RBI despite not starting a game in the series.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, also need more production out of some spots in their lineup. Wong’s double leading off the 10th inning on Monday was just his third hit of the series. Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler has one hit in 16 at-bats. Molina’s game-tying hit was his first RBI of the series. Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, though, are batting .438 and .471, respectively, in the middle of the Cardinals order.

Next: Freddie Freeman, Mike Foltynewicz key for Game 5

Game 5 begins in Atlanta at 5:02 p.m. ET. If it’s anything like the four games that have already been played this series, it’s set up to be a classic with nothing less than a trip to the NLCS on the line.

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