PHILADELPHIA -- When you've come from 10 1/2 games back, four runs isn't even a bump in the road. Even on the road, in one of baseball's most hostile environments, against one of the game's most accomplished postseason pitchers.
The never-say-die Cardinals were never daunted. They pulled off a stunning win on Sunday night, overcoming an abbreviated and ineffective start from their ace and beating the great Cliff Lee despite spotting him four runs. They held on for a 5-4 comeback win over the Phillies in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park, tying the series as it heads back to Busch Stadium.
The Cards have thus put themselves in the driver's seat in this series, needing to win two out of three, with the next two games at home. In the Wild Card era, teams that have won Game 2 of a Division Series after losing Game 1 have gone on to win the series 13 out of 24 times. Since the inception of the current Division Series format in 1998, teams that gain a split on the road have won 12 of 22 series.
It's a far cry from a night earlier, when St. Louis was knocked around in an ugly 11-6 defeat. When the Cards fell behind Lee and the Phils early, and it became clear that manager Tony La Russa's gambit to start Chris Carpenter on short rest had not worked, things looked dire indeed. This team, however, never flinches.
"It's what we've been doing for the last month or so," said Ryan Theriot. "We've got a good offense. We've got some guys that can hit. We score runs. So when we do get down early, there's no panic. You just go out there and continue to do what we've been doing and see where you're at."
Albert Pujols' seventh-inning RBI single was the go-ahead hit, but only the last in a long string of big hits from a Redbirds offense that attacked incessantly. St. Louis scored in three innings, rebounding after stranding leadoff extra-base hits in both the first and second. It amassed 12 hits against Lee, a three-time All-Star and the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner.
"He probably struggled with his command more than he normally does, I would say," said Lance Berkman. "He's always tough, doesn't matter. He could underhand it up there and he's got good stuff. But certainly, and I'm sure he would say the same, he's been sharper in the past. ... I think we did a decent job of laying off tough pitches and hitting some pitches when we had an opportunity."
More than any hitter -- or even all the hitters -- St. Louis' relief corps stands collectively as the biggest hero of this win. Asked to get 18 outs after Carpenter, who was pitching on short rest for the first time in his career, scuffled, it did so. Mercilessly. A unit that took its lumps a night earlier was simply stellar in Game 2.
Stealing home-field advantage
|1998||AL||Bos.||L in 4||Cle.|
|NL||S.D.||W in 4 ^||Hou.|
|1999||NL||Hou.||L in 4||Atl.|
|NL||N.Y.||W in 4||Ari.|
|2000||AL||N.Y.||W in 5 *||Oak.|
|NL||N.Y.||W in 4 ^||S.F.|
|2001||AL||Cle.||L in 5||Sea.|
|NL||Stl.||L in 5||Ari.|
|2002||AL||Ana.||W in 4 *||N.Y.|
|AL||Min.||W in 5||Oak.|
|NL||S.F.||W in 5 ^||Atl.|
|2003||AL||Min.||L in 4||N.Y.|
|NL||Chi.||W in 5||Atl.|
|NL||Fla.||W in 5 *||S.F.|
|2004||AL||Min.||L in 4||N.Y.|
|NL||Hou.||W in 5||Atl.|
|2005||AL||N.Y.||L in 5||L.A.|
|NL||Hou.||W in 4 ^||Atl.|
|2006||AL||Det.||W in 4 ^||N.Y.|
|2009||NL||Col.||L in 4||Phi.|
|2010||NL||Atl.||L in 4||S.F.|
Fernando Salas steadied the game with two perfect innings, changing the tone of the contest as the Cards got back into it. Octavio Dotel retired four in a row, including two left-handers. Marc Rzepczynski shepherded the game into the eighth, catching Jimmy Rollins stealing to end the seventh.
And manager Tony La Russa used four relievers against the heart of the Phillies' order in a pivotal seventh inning, capped off by de facto closer Jason Motte. The hard-throwing right-hander pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the win.
"Any one of those guys does not do the job," La Russa said, "[and] we're not going to win the game. ... They were heroes all the way through the bullpen."
The Cards' relievers only needed to do so much because Carpenter never got locked in. A double and two walks loaded the bases before his first out. Carpenter induced a grounder up the middle from Ryan Howard that could and should have been a double play, but instead it caromed off the mound for a two-run single. Two batters later, Raul Ibanez's RBI single made it 3-0.
Carpenter got two outs in the second before allowing a double, a walk and an RBI single from Hunter Pence. He retired his last four batters, but the damage was done.
"It's about controlling counts and making pitches, and I wasn't able to do that in the first inning," Carpenter said. "After that, I was. And it showed a different result in the second and third."
Carpenter was probably a bit better than his line. La Russa, who expressed frustration with home-plate umpire Jerry Meals during an in-game television interview, certainly thought so. Regardless of the strike zone, though, Carpenter was done after three innings, removed for a pinch-hitter in St. Louis' fourth-inning rally.
Berkman started that outburst with a walk, and Yadier Molina had an infield hit. Theriot got the Cards on the board with an RBI double and Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal added run-scoring singles, but the inning was cut short when Jay was thrown out at home trying to score from second on Furcal's ball.
"I take full responsibility," said Lee, who has lost three straight postseason starts after going 7-0 in his first eight. "Any time you give a starting pitcher a four-run lead in two innings, he's in a pretty good spot, and that's the situation I was in. I somehow squandered it away. You've got to give their hitters credit. They got a ton of hits. "
Rejuvenated, the Cardinals kept pushing. Theriot's double got them going in the sixth, and he scored on a Jay single. Allen Craig stroked a leadoff triple and scored in the seventh, though the Redbirds missed a golden chance to add even more in that inning.
The Cards didn't need it, though, because of a lockdown bullpen. And they have more than a little life now. Another day, another improbable comeback.
"It doesn't happen very often," Berkman said, "but neither does coming from [10 1/2] back with a month to play."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.