<
>

Cardinals write improbable script

ST. LOUIS - After it was over some of the St. Louis Cardinals players wanted to know if Hollywood would buy the script. Did they really just beat Los Angeles Dodgers all-world pitcher Clayton Kershaw for a second time in four days?

And with yet another seventh-inning rally?

"It's hard to believe," outfielder Matt Holliday said in a champagne-drenched locker room after the National League Division Series-clinching 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday. "It really is."

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta added: "I don't know what happened in the seventh inning with Kershaw. I don't think he likes to play St. Louis."

In 12 innings pitched not including the seventh, Kershaw gave up two runs in the series. In his two seventh innings in Games 1 and 4, he gave up nine runs. And that's without finishing either of them.

For the second time a left-handed hitter beat him as Matt Adams hit a hanging curveball out to right field for a three-run home run, chasing Kershaw from the game. According to TruMedia research, it was the first home run Kershaw has surrendered with his curveball to a left-handed batter in his career. Talk about clutch. The Cardinals went from a 2-0 deficit to a 3-2 lead and an eventual 3-1 series victory.

"I don't think I touched the ground the whole way around the bases," Adams said. "It was no secret that I struggled throughout the season against lefties. And that's one thing going into the series, we knew that a couple of starters and a lot of guys in the bullpen were lefties. So [we] did a lot of work coming up to the series just hitting on the curveball machine down in the cage. And just trying to see the ball coming that way, a little bit more."

Mission accomplished, and not just by Adams. The Cardinals' left-handed hitters were the key to the series. They destroyed Dodgers' lefty pitchers with a .366 batting average to go along with five home runs. They had hit eight homers all year off lefty pitching. The Dodgers had no answer for Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Adams and Jon Jay. At least not when it mattered most.

"We haven't necessarily done it all season," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "A lot of it has to do with firing them back in there and getting comfortable. If you never see a left-handed pitcher as a left-handed hitter, the odds of you having a real good at-bat aren't going to be as high."

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Cardinals left-handed hitters had the second-most plate appearances in the regular season against lefty pitching in the National League. They got their practice in for six months before going to work against the Dodgers.

"You keep fighting and trying to string at-bats together," Holliday said. "We just had to keep fighting. [Kershaw] is so tough on both sides [of the plate], but the thing about it is you're one curveball [away], probably just a little higher than he wanted it to be, and Matt made a great swing."

Just like Wong did the night before in the seventh inning against lefty reliever Scott Elbert, and as Carpenter did on Friday against Kershaw -- also in the seventh. His ball didn't leave the yard, but his bases-loaded double scored three and sent Kershaw to the showers.

These two seventh-inning NLDS meltdowns come on heels of last year's NLCS Game 6, when the Cardinals got to Kershaw for seven runs in a series-clinching win. He didn't even make it to the seventh inning in that game.

Remember, the Cardinals did this against the sure-thing, repeat Cy Young Award winner and likely NL MVP. You can understand why Hollywood might call.

"You can't be intimidated by anyone," Wong said. "You have to play like you're the best out there and have that confidence."

Confidence is the last thing the Cardinals are lacking these days. All season they heard about their home run drought. They ranked last in the National League with 105 home runs, their fewest since 1992. How can a team make the playoffs without hitting home runs?

By doing it the old-fashioned way.

"Just keep the line[up] moving," Holliday said. "That's all you can do against [Kershaw]. We're not thinking about home runs."

"It was a great approach [in the series] of staying through the middle of the field," Matheny said. "If Matt Adams goes up there trying to hit a home run, he probably pops up to the first baseman."

In the end, the Cardinals simply would not be denied their fourth consecutive trip to the NLCS. That sounds like a cliché, but how else can you explain their dramatic abuse of the game's best pitcher at the most important time of the year?

"I can't tell you," Peralta said. "It's unbelievable how we did it."