It’s a refreshing feeling in the city of St. Louis when postseason baseball arrives.
On Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals, who won their third straight division title in 2015 by finishing with an MLB-best 100-62 record, faced off against their most fierce rival… the Chicago Cubs.
And yet, it was the first time in the century-plus history of this rivalry that they had faced off in the playoffs.
Without a doubt, it’ll be a game to remember, as pure pitching took place until the bottom of the eighth, when the power of two Cardinals rookies provided the nail in the coffin for game one, as St. Louis took the win 4-0.
The starters for the game were not only two baseball veterans, but they were also former teammates. For the Cardinals, there was John Lackey, who finished the 2015 season with a 13-10 record and a 2.77 ERA. On the other side, there was Jon Lester, who finished his season with an 11-12 record and with a 3.34 ERA.
These two were members of the 2013 Boston Red Sox team that beat the Cardinals in the World Series. But now, they are members of two separate teams in one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.
St. Louis put the first run on the board in the first inning when Matt Holliday scored Stephen Piscotty (who hit a ground rule double) with a single.
And for the rest of his start, that was all Lackey needed.
Back and forth, Lackey and Lester pitched with everything they had, with the former having a no-hitter through the first five innings of the game, and the latter at one point retiring 12 straight batters. At some point, it became apparent one pitcher had to let up, and make a costly mistake.
But when one made a mistake, a key play bailed them out. Double plays, close catches at the wall, and bouncing back from rough pitch counts were constants throughout the game. The most notable moment came when Dexter Fowler had believed to have hit a two-run home run, only to see Randal Grichuk make the catch at the very edge of the wall.
When taken out in the top of the eighth inning after one out, Lackey received a resounding ovation from the Busch Stadium crowd. His final line of the evening was: 7.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks. As manager Mike Matheny walked to the mound, the crowd issued its fair share of boos for taking the soon-to-be 37 year old out while still under 90 pitches. Many were unsure the move would work.
Kevin Siegrist finished off the eighth inning, preserving the shutout.
However, it was still 1-0 with Lester still on the mound.
Which is where the Cardinals’ farm system took advantage of their first taste of the postseason. Ahead in a 3-1 count with one out, rookie Tommy Pham, in his first postseason at-bat, launched a pitch over 430 feet into left field to make it 2-0 Cardinals. Following a walk to Matt Carpenter, Lester’s long night was over, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon came out while Pedro Strop got the call to the mound.
Piscotty took full advantage, hitting a two-run shot to left field as well, making it a 4-0 game, as the hometown crowd went into a frenzy.
Coming into the game in a non-save situation, Trevor Rosenthal capped off the shutout by striking out Cubs’ rookie Kris Bryant with runners on the corner to end the game, giving the Cardinals the win and the 1-0 series lead.
On Saturday afternoon, Jaime Garcia will get the start for the second game in the NLDS.
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)