Beer and champagne created a pungent haze in a clubhouse at SunTrust Park on Wednesday evening. It was not the one that belonged to the host Atlanta Braves.
Instead, it was members of the St. Louis Cardinals who wrought havoc on a tarped-over room in the bowels of a recently built stadium. They had just beat the Braves in dominating fashion, a 13-1 flogging in Game 5 of a National League Division Series to secure their fifth trip of the decade to the championship series.
Adam Wainwright had witnessed similar scenes in the past. As one of the two longest-tenured Cardinals, the 38-year-old starting pitcher sprayed his teammates with booze during jaunts to three World Series appearances and two championships.
That didn’t stop Wainwright from remarking on the tingly, cold sensation that shot through his teeth when one teammate spilled beer over his head and into his mouth.
Nor did it stop the veteran of 14 seasons from declaring that this Cardinals team, which entered the playoffs as an underdog because of its low-scoring and oft-times impotent offense, could play deep into the postseason.
“The teams that I’ve been on that have won have a lot of the same things that we got going,” said Wainwright, who pitched an astonishing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the Cardinals’ Game 3 loss. “A lot of meat in the middle of the lineup that can do a lot of damage. A very good starting rotation, a very good bullpen, and we play good defense.”
Catcher Yadier Molina, who debuted one year before Wainwright in 2004 and has played the most postseason games (94) in National League history, agreed but pointed to something more intangible as a indicator of success.
“This team has a lot of heart,” he said. “We have heart. We don’t give up.”
Perhaps it was the way the Cardinals secured their last two victories — Game 4 on Molina’s 10th-inning sacrifice fly and Game 5 on the tailwind of an onslaught — that convinced Molina of that.
The Cardinals, owners of the weakest offense among the field of playoff teams, never put a ball over the fence on Wednesday. They blew away the Braves’ cadre of pitchers with a series of tiny cuts. A game-opening walk drawn by Dexter Fowler, who had entered with one hit during this series, and a well-placed sacrifice bunt by Kolten Wong started the surge.
Paul Goldschmidt stroked a single into left field. Marcell Ozuna, who finished the best-of-five set with three doubles and two homers and tied with Goldschmidt for the series lead in hits (nine), sliced one the other way for a run. Then Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman muffed a would-be double-play ball off the bat of Molina. Everyone was safe.
The Cardinals poured on. They didn’t stop when Braves manager Brian Snitker lifted starter Mike Foltynewicz after they had sent eight to bat and taken a 4-0 lead. Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty drew a bases-loaded walk. Consecutive two-run doubles by Fowler and Wong and a third-strike wild pitch that got by catcher Brian McCann with two outs gave the Cardinals a commanding 10-0 lead. No team had scored that many runs in the first inning of a playoff game.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen that many guys hit in the first inning that quick in my entire life,” Snitker said of the 14 Cardinals who went to the plate in the first.
There was no relief against the young and talented Flaherty, who bounced back from a loss in Game 2 to hold the Braves to four hits. By the time Flaherty’s night had ended, the Braves had managed only one run on Josh Donaldson’s homer. They had struck out eight times.
The scene never improved.
Dansby Swanson, whose go-ahead double authored the Braves’ Game 3 come-back victory, went to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Fans started up the Braves’ now-infamous tomahawk chop, of which the team “reduced” its usage in response to the disappointment expressed by Cardinals reliever of Cherokee descent Ryan Helsley.
No boost ensued. Swanson made the final out.
Soon the Cardinals were celebrating, the Braves were retreating to their clubhouse and the public address announcer was encouraging the departing Game 5 revelers to return to SunTrust Park in six months.