The St. Louis Cardinals committed only 66 errors this season on the way to the National League Central title, lowest in the majors, and down from an embarrassing 166 a year ago. The latter figure led baseball, tarnishing the team’s reputation for fundamentally sound play..
The Cardinals were confident they could continue to repair their credibility in Thursday’s opener of the NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
“I think one of the reasons we’re here is because our defense has been a pillar for this team,” manager Mike Shildt said a day earlier.
The Cardinals did not make the necessary plays early, particularly in the sixth inning, when a throwing error by shortstop Paul DeJong led to a run. But the Cardinals overcame the blunders to defeat the Braves 7-6 in front of a sold-out SunTrust Park crowd of 42,631.
The Braves led 3-1 entering the eighth inning, but Paul Goldschmidt closed the gap, smashing Braves reliever Luke Jackson’s second pitch an estimated 446 feet into the second deck at left field. DeJong and Kolten Wong reached on two-out singles that prompted Jackson’s departure. Moments later, DeJong scored the tying run on Matt Carpenter’s RBI single. Wong attempted to score but was thrown out by left fielder Adam Duvall.
It wasn’t Wong’s first mistake of the evening. He made a throwing error at second base in the first inning that allowed the Braves to take a 1-0 lead.
“That was really the only play I had,” he said. “[Josh] Donaldson, off the bat he was going down the line pretty good. I caught the ball in front of second base. I just tried to flip it, couldn’t get a good hand on it. ... I might body it more instead of try to pick it next time.”
Shildt, however, was complimentary of Wong and DeJong, who almost combined for a force play in the sixth inning.
“I love the fact our guys are going to be aggressive and look to make plays,” he said. “[DeJong] tried to make a play. Kolten tries to make a pick. Just kicked away, allowed another run to score.”
Wong, who missed the last week of the regular season because of a hamstring strain, made up for his inaccuracies. His two-run double after Marcell Ozuna delivered a go-ahead, two-RBI extra-base hit in the ninth stretched St. Louis’ lead to 7-3.
Wong’s hit made a difference. Ronald Acuna Jr., the young Braves star who settled for a seventh-inning single on a line drive that should have yielded his second double of the evening, blistered a two-run homer off Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez. One out later, Freddie Freeman smoked a solo shot to center field, cutting the deficit to 7-6, but Martinez retired Donaldson and Nick Markakis to end the game.
“That’s playoff baseball,” Wong said. “You never expect anything to happen the way you plan. Things are going to come up. And these guys put some really good at-bats on Carlos, some good swings. And we were just lucky we were able to get away with the win.”