By R.B. Fallstrom
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright sprinted to the mound for the ninth inning, sending a message that he had plenty left. He pretended not to notice when the bullpen got busy, and he avoided eye contact with manager Mike Matheny.
Without saying a word, the St. Louis Cardinals ace told them all to stand down, he had this one.
“To pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt,” Wainwright said after throwing a complete game to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Wednesday night and put the Cardinals in the NL championship series for the third straight season.
“These are the moments that starting pitchers live for.”
David Freese’s two-run homer in the second inning off rookie Gerrit Cole was all Wainwright needed. The right-hander also had won Game 1 and allowed one run in 16 innings in two dominant outings against the Pirates.
The Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the last three years, and they get to stay at home to open the NLCS against the well-rested Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Freese said. “It’s going to be fun, St. Louis and L.A. going at it.”
Wainwright was motivated for Game 5, mindful that he’d put the Cardinals in an early 6-0 hole at Washington last October and needed the offense to pick him up. He struck out Pedro Alvarez with two men on to end the complete game that he’d said was a goal.
“I didn’t want to see him come out of that game, and he wasn’t coming out,” Matheny said. “It made everybody in the whole stadium’s hair stand on end, because you could see he wanted that ball worse than anything in the world.”
Jon Jay had an RBI single in the sixth and Matt Adams hit his first homer of the postseason, a two-run shot off Mark Melancon in the Cardinals’ three-run eighth.
Alvarez was again a highlight for Pittsburgh, becoming the first player to get an RBI in his first six postseason games on a fluke hit that caromed off first base in the seventh. The rally began with a pair of infield hits.
The Pirates were held to one run in each of the final two games of their first playoff appearance since 1992. Pittsburgh beat the Reds in the NL wild-card game, but hasn’t won a postseason series since winning the World Series in 1979.
“We’re not the team that lost again, we’re the team that won,” MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen said. “We definitely have to take a little pride in that we were that team.
“It feels like it’s going to be the beginning for us.”
Wainwright was helped by three double plays — two when Pirates runners strayed too far on line drives. The right-hander struck out six and walked one in a 107-pitch effort.
As a rookie in 2006, Wainwright got the final out in the NLCS and World Series. He’s 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and four saves in 15 career postseason games, including six starts.
The 23-year-old Cole threw six dominant innings to beat the Cardinals in Game 2, also in St. Louis. His fastball hit 100 mph in the first inning against Matt Holliday but he paid for a hanging breaking ball to Freese, then got lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth.
“If it’s a different game, probably could ride him a little bit longer,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve only got 12 outs to play with and we don’t have any runs.”
Freese struggled this season to overcome a back injury in spring training and had nine homers and 60 RBIs. But just like teammate Carlos Beltran, he’s an October star with seven homers, 29 RBIs and a .325 average in 36 career postseason games.
At 23 years, 31 days, Cole was the youngest NL pitcher to start Game 5 of a division series and the fifth-youngest NL pitcher to start a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS.
Counting the postseason, Cole didn’t allow a homer in six straight starts. That ended when Freese connected for a 2-0 lead in the second.
“The pitch to Freese, I did a good job with it,” Cole said. “Hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes. You can’t dwell on it, you’ve just got to keep going and keep making pitches.”