St. Louis — Yadier Molina pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a deciding Game 5 of the NL Division Series, poking a tying single in the eighth inning and lifting a sacrifice fly in the 10th to beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 Monday.
Molina slung his bat far into the outfield after his winner, and the crowd at Busch Stadium roared with the longtime heart of the franchise.
“An elite, special player, that’s what he is,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
Game 5 will be Wednesday back in Atlanta. The Cardinals will have ace Jack Flaherty on the mound, and the Braves will go with Mike Foltynewicz.
Kolten Wong led off the St. Louis 10th with a ground-rule double against Julio Teheran. After Paul Goldschmidt was intentionally walked, Wong advanced on Marcell Ozuna’s forceout and easily scampered home on Molina’s fly to the front of the warning track in left field.
Wong threw his hands in the air as he ran toward the plate. Molina rounded first base with his bat in hand, then flung it away as the celebration erupted. The 37-year-old catcher discarded his batting helmet as the rest of the Cardinals poured onto the field.
Molina made it 4-all with a two-out single in the eighth that went just off the top of the glove of a leaping Freddie Freeman at first.
“I thought it was going in there,” the 6-foot-5 Freeman said. “I just needed to be 6-7.”
Ozzie Albies homered and drove in three runs for Atlanta, and Ronald Acuña Jr. had four hits. But the NL East champions went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, a continuing problem in the postseason over the past two years.
The Braves left the bases loaded in the sixth and seventh. Acuña was stranded on third when Josh Donaldson flied out in the ninth.
“We’re a hit away from — just some productive outs — from continuing to add on,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Ozuna homered twice for St. Louis, and Goldschmidt also connected. But the NL Central champions were four outs from a second straight difficult loss before Molina delivered down the stretch.
Albies gave Atlanta a 4-3 lead with a two-run homer off Dakota Hudson in the fifth, capping a three-run rally.
The Braves carried the advantage all the way into the eighth, but Goldschmidt doubled and Molina came up with the tying hit off Shane Greene.
Carlos Martínez gave St. Louis a lift after Acuña led off the ninth with a double, retiring three in a row. The closer took the loss Sunday when he gave up three runs in the ninth in Atlanta’s 3-1 victory.
Game 1 starter Miles Mikolas worked the 10th for the win.
Dansby Swanson had two hits and scored twice for Atlanta, which has dropped its last nine postseason rounds — just one off the major league record held by the Chicago Cubs. It is trying to advance to the franchise’s first NL Championship Series since 2001.
St. Louis got off to a fast start, delighting the crowd of 42,203 on a picturesque October afternoon. Goldschmidt drove a 3-1 changeup from Dallas Keuchel deep to left with two out in the first, and Ozuna followed with a laser into the second deck in left for a 2-0 lead.
It was the first set of consecutive playoff homers for the Cardinals since Wong and Randal Grichuk accomplished the feat in Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs.
The Braves got one back on Albies’ sacrifice fly in the third, but Ozuna led off the fourth with another drive to left for the first multihomer playoff game for a Cardinals player since Carlos Beltran in Game 2 of the 2012 NLDS against Washington.
Ozuna is batting .471 (8-for-17) with four RBIs in his first career postseason series.
Pitching on three days of rest, Keuchel allowed three runs and four hits in 3⅓ innings in his 11th career postseason start.
(At) Washington 6, L.A. Dodgers 1: Max Scherzer is 35. So is Ryan Zimmerman. The Washington Nationals would not be headed to a win-or-go-home Game 5 in their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers without them.
“We’re a bunch of yahoos. We’re old guys,” Scherzer joked. “Old guys can still do it.”
Sure can. And for a guy whose teams used to lose repeatedly in the postseason, Scherzer sure is delivering now.
Every time he’s pitched this October, the Nationals have won. His latest outing was a season-saving, seven-inning masterpiece that combined with Zimmerman’s three-run parabola of a homer to lift the wild-card Nationals to a victory over league-best Los Angeles, tying the best-of-five NLDS at two games apiece.
“I was just gassed. I was out,” said Scherzer, who threw 109 pitches. “I was empty in the tank.”
Scowling and muttering to himself as showers fell for part of his gritty performance, Scherzer allowed one run and four hits while striking out nine — and, most importantly for Washington, he prevented LA from closing out the NLDS after taking a 2-1 lead into Game 4.
“He really gave it all he had,” said Anthony Rendon, who drove in three runs for Washington.
With fans who braved rain chanting, “Beat LA!” in the late going, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson combined to get the last six outs for Washington, which will send Stephen Strasburg to the mound against Walker Buehler on Wednesday night at Los Angeles.
“If I could bet, I’d bet on him,” Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said about Strasburg. “He’s a very good pitcher. A polished pitcher. To have him healthy and ready to go in that situation only boosts our confidence.”
Whichever team advances to the NL Championship Series will face the Braves or Cardinals next. Their NLDS heads to a Game 5 at Atlanta on Wednesday.
Zimmerman showed what he still can do at the plate by taking a 97 mph pitch, the second thrown by reliever Pedro Báez, and turning it into a high-arching 400-foot-plus rainbow that descended onto the green batter’s eye in straightaway center field for a three-run shot that made it 5-1.
“Zim put a really good swing on it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
That was after Julio Urías, LA’s third pitcher and the one charged with the loss, began the fifth by serving up a line-drive single to Trea Turner, who finished with three hits. Rendon, who led the majors with 126 RBIs during the regular season but entered Monday with just one in the playoffs, delivered a run-scoring single that made it 2-1.
Rendon also brought home runs via sacrifice flies in the third and sixth.
That was plenty for Scherzer, who clenched his teeth while getting through his last inning after loading the bases by issuing a pair of walks with one out in the seventh. But he got out of that by striking out pinch-hitter Chris Taylor and getting Joc Pederson — whose liner on a first-pitch cut landed about an inch foul — to ground out.
Scherzer shook his arms and yelled as he stalked to the home dugout.
“You can’t say enough about his compete,” Roberts said. “He just sort of wills his way to getting outs.”
The Dodgers’ lone run came when Justin Turner connected for a no-doubt-about-it homer to left on Scherzer’s 10th pitch, a 95 mph fastball. But from there, facing an LA lineup stacked with a half-dozen lefty hitters, Scherzer displayed the sort of ornery dominance that helped him win three Cy Young Awards.
“He might look like a maniac out there,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said, “but he’s smart.”
Scherzer entered these playoffs on a skid: His teams, Detroit and Washington, had been 0-7 in his most recent seven postseason appearances. But the Nationals won the NL wild-card game last week, which he started; Game 2 of the NLDS, when Scherzer struck out all three batters he faced in relief of Strasburg; and now Game 4.
Scherzer said a Game 5 appearance was out of the question.
“That pushed me all the way to the edge and then some,” he said. “So, yeah, I can’t imagine any scenario where I’m pitching.”
LA’s own three-time Cy guy, Clayton Kershaw, will be available to follow Buehler, Roberts said.
The Dodgers are trying to get to the NLCS for the fourth year in a row, while the Nationals have never been to that round since moving from Montreal in 2005. Washington will be playing in its fourth NLDS Game 5 in the past eight years; the Nats are 0-3 so far, with all those losses at home, including against the Dodgers in 2016.
Zimmerman for so many years was the face of the franchise for the Nationals, who made him their first draft pick 14 years ago. So he’s been through all their highs, including four NL East titles, and lows, including early exit after early exit in the playoffs. He no longer is an everyday player — Game 4 marked his second start of this postseason — and his teammate-mandated dugout dance after his homer consisted of pretending to use a walker.
“He’s been here forever,” Rendon said. “Man, he means everything to this city, to this team.”
This could be a last hurrah for Zimmerman with the Nationals, who hold an $18 million contract option on him in 2020. He insists he’s not thinking about the future, other than figuring that he’ll continue playing beyond this season.
“There’s been a lot of people,” Zimmerman said, “that think these are my last games.”
That prompted Scherzer to pipe up.
“I really don’t think,” Scherzer said, “these are his last games.”
National League Division Series
L.A. Dodgers vs. Washington
Series tied 2-2
Oct 3: L.A. Dodgers 6-0
Oct. 4: Washington 4-2
Oct. 6: L.A. Dodgers, 10-4
Monday: Washington 6-1
Wednesday: Washington (Strasburg 18-6) at L.A. Dodgers (Buehler 14-4), 8:37 (TBS)
Atlanta vs. St. Louis
Series tied 2-2
Oct. 3: St. Louis 7-6
Oct. 4: Atlanta 3-0
Oct. 6: Atlanta 3-1
Monday: St. Louis 5-4 (10)
Wednesday: St. Louis (Flaherty 11-8) at Atlanta (Foltnewicz 8-6), 5:02 (TBS)