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 Wednesday night. He homered, doubled and drove in four runs as the Cardinals defeated nemesis Roy Oswalt and forced a deciding fifth game in their NL 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 on Friday 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, 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 6-year-old Busch Stadium.
Pujols made his presence known on defense, catching Chase Utley going for an extra base in the sixth. Utley drew a leadoff walk and kept running on Hunter Pence’s grounder to short, but Pujols alertly jumped off first base to catch the throw and made a sharp relay to third for the out.
“This is obviously the playoffs, but that’s a play I can make in the regular season, too,” Pujols said. “If I would have stayed on the bag, it was going to be tough to get the runner at third. Obviously, that killed the rally right there.”
Edwin Jackson recovered from a rocky beginning to win his first playoff start.