It was clear early in Game 1 that Jaime Garcia did not have it. Garcia labored through the first inning and performed something felt akin to a Houdini prestige in escaping with only two Brewers crossing home plate. Time and again Garcia would miss up. Time again Garcia would miss inside to left-handed hitter and away to right-handed hitters. Garcia simply did not have his tantalizing repertoire harnessed in this the biggest game of the season to date.
Neither did Zack Greinke. The Cardinals touched the former American League Cy Young early and continued to pepper his offerings around the yard until he was relieved after surrendering six runs off a combination of eight hits and two walks for the Redbirds. The loudest contact off Greinkecame off the bat of David Freese who shot a three-run homer over the right-center field wall to give the Cardinals a two-run lead. That lead was padded to three by a Berkman single in the fifth.
Then the floodgates opened.
Despite a rough outing Garcia somehow entered the fifth inning with a
6-3 5-2 lead. It felt comfortable, perhaps too much so for Garcia didn't look comfy on the hill in the middle of the beasts' lair. Corey Hart singled to left on a 2-2 offering. Jerry Hairston followed that with a double. Braun strode to the plate with ducks on the pond. He clubbed the first pitch he saw from the struggling lefty for a ground rule double. With the bullpen scrambling to get loose Prince Fielder mashed a first pitch fastball over the wall. In what felt like the blink of an eye a three-run lead had transformed into a one-run deficit. La Russa turned to proven veteran Octavio Dotel to stop the bleeding.
Dotel greeted Richie Weeks with a throwing error. Then offered up a fat, hanging slider to Yuni Betancourt--YUNI BETANCOURT--that even Betancourt--BETANCOURT--was able to deposit beyond the wall. Dotel eventually managed to record three outs. This six-run explosion would be all the Brewers were need.
The Cards plated a run in in the seventh on a Pujols GIDP that cut the lead to just two. La Russa then turned to Kyle McClellen, he who was left off the NLDS roster due to a "dead arm." The alleged resurrection of his arm led to his inclusion on the NLCS roster. K-Mac's arm may not be dead but it looked anything but lively on this day. Betancourt smoked a leadoff double. The Brewers were kind of enough to give McClellan an out via a Carlos Gomez sacrifice bunt--on which Gomez looked to have beaten the floater to first from K-Mac's undead arm--Jonathan Lucroy lined a McClellen meatball to center that re-extended the Milwaukee lead to three.
K-Rod and Axford locked down the final two innings.
The Brewers took a 1-0 lead in what was a fireworks-filled first game. But the series is anything but over. The clubs split the regular season series 9-9 and are neck-and-neck in talent level. Losing Game 1 of the NLCS was unquestionably a missed opportunity for the Cardinals just as it was in the NLDS. However, all is not lost. There is a lot of baseball left to be played.