Dansby Swanson sprinted home, dived toward the dirt and across the plate with reckless abandon, then sprang up with boundless enthusiasm.
The Atlanta Braves shortstop had just scored an insurance run on Adam Duvall’s ninth-inning double in a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. Moments earlier, Swanson had pumped his fist so emphatically after crushing a first-pitch slider for a tying, two-out double that he nearly lost his helmet.
A hush fell over the sold-out crowd of 46,701 at Busch Stadium. Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez could not hold a one-run lead, not even after recording two strikeouts and issuing an intentional walk to Brian McCann. Instead, Martinez became the first reliever to allow three earned runs in multiple games of the same division series, and the Braves seized a 2-1 lead in this one.
“I get there’s not a lot of margin for error, but it’s not like this guy’s out there throwing it all over the place,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, who chose to walk McCann and pitch to Swanson because he had gone hitless in six at-bats against Martinez including a strikeout in Game 1. “He made one mistake. [Swanson] put a swing on it.”
When the rally was over and the Braves had willed themselves to within one win of advancing to the NL Championship Series, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright sat in the training room. He had dazzled for 120 pitches over 7 2/3 innings, holding a team known for its slugging to three harmless singles and a double. Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller had bailed him out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth and protected a 1-0 lead.
Martinez’s inability to locate pitches for the second time in this series — he gave up two home runs in the ninth inning of the Cardinals’ NLDS-opening win Thursday — spoiled an otherwise splendid night for the 38-year-old Wainwright.
“We had a chance in the ninth there to maybe put a couple insurance runs out there and their guys did a great job,” said Wainwright, who had a 4.19 earned-run average over 31 starts this season, his 14th with the Cardinals. “A guy like Carlos, I feel for him because he’s so talented, he’s so good and he’s been so great for us all year. Let’s hope one moment doesn’t define the season because I’d like to see him get another chance.”
The inept Cardinals offense has scored one run in the last 18 innings — and the one they pushed across in the second inning Sunday was manufactured with a bit of luck. Marcell Ozuna flared a ball over the infield into unoccupied right-field territory and cruised into second base with a double. He advanced to third on a ground ball. Paul Goldschmidt lofted a sacrifice fly ball to right-center field.
Wainwright, who was a rookie when he earned the save in the Cardinals’ World Series clincher in 2006, made that run count. In his franchise-leading 25th postseason appearance, he buzzed through the Braves lineup three times. Every time the Braves charged a baseball deep into the outfield, it held up in the wind and landed in a glove shy of the warning track.
Nothing shook Wainwright as he and career-long battery-mate Yadier Molina retired all but three of the Braves’ first 24 batters. He remained steady even when Swanson coaxed a single and two Braves drew walks in the eighth inning.
“I was very confident coming into today,” Wainwright said.
Braves starter Mike Soroka, 22, matched Wainwright’s calm. Other than Ozuna’s second-inning double, Soroka maneuvered the Cardinals’ lineup with ease for seven innings. At one point, he retired 17 straight. Ozuna was the only hitter to reach against him, doing so again in the sixth with a two-out single.
Soroka, a Canadian-born rookie, became the youngest pitcher to throw at least seven innings and allow only two baserunners in a postseason game.
The Braves’ bullpen teetered but did not break after taking over in the eighth inning, performing just well enough to put a potential clincher in the hands of an unnamed Game 4 starter. It could be the short-rested Dallas Keuchel, who allowed one run in 4- 2/3 innings in Game 1, or late roster addition Julio Teheran.
Whoever it is, his task will be to send the Braves to the NLCS for the first time since 2001 by beating talented Cardinals rookie Dakota Hudson.