ST. LOUIS – It was the kind of moment Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed on for when he reunited with general manager Alex Anthopoulos in the off season.
A chance to be a factor at the most important time of the baseball calendar and live up to his reputation as a clutch player.
So with his team down a run and facing the chance of crawling into a 2-1 series deficit, the Bringer of Rain came through with a leadoff double to trigger the Braves stunning three-run, ninth-inning rally on Sunday afternoon.
“Everybody wants to feel a part of it,” the Braves cleanup hitter said afterward. “I’m one of those guys in the middle of the lineup that you are counting on. The first three at-bats today were sub par, so to be able to come up in the moment when we needed it was huge.”
As he approached the batters’ box with a sellout crowd of 46,701 raging on, Donaldson tapped into the playoff experience of his past.
“It’s one of those ordeals where you want to make sure you are breathing,” said the Blue Jays’ former MVP third baseman. “It’s a situation where you don’t want to get too over-hyped for it and just try to put a good swing on it.”
Though there was some risk in the one-year, US$23 million deal the Braves offered Donaldson, Anthopoulos believed he could be just the type of player his team needed on Sunday. The veteran also had an RBI in Game 1 and drove in the winning score in Game 2.
“He’s been incredible for us the entire year,” Anthopoulos said. “The one guy who wants the moment and likes the moment is him.”
Some added tidbits on the historical significance of Braves starter Mike Soroka’s appearance on Sunday:
– At age 22, Soroka was the youngest Canadian to get a playoff start and the 20th Canadian ever to pitch in the MLB postseason
– Though it won’t be enough to get him NL Cy Young Award consideration, Soroka’s regular-season numbers were superb. His ERA of 2.68 was third lowest in his league and fifth overall in the majors. That ERA was the lowest by any MLB rookie since Jose Fernandez had a 2.19 mark for the Marlins in 2013.
– How is this for some elite youthful company? The last pitcher younger than Soroka to start a playoff road game was Madison Bumgarner, who at age 21 took Game 4 of the 2010 World Series. The previous younger pitcher to start a Game 3 or later was when a 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw did so for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the 2009 NLCS vs. Philly.
One starter was a first-round pick in 2000, the other a 2015 first-rounder so yes, that makes Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright (aged 38) almost old enough to be his Braves Game 3 counterpart Soroka’s (22) father.
It’s a testament to both pitchers, of course. Wainwright for having the smarts and professionalism not only to extend his career, but to become a key performer. For Soroka, who started the season as a 21-year-old, there is maturity beyond his years.
“No offence but I always tell these guys that old players mean good players,” said Wainwright, who pitched 7.2 innings of shutout ball for one of the biggest efforts of his career. “You don’t get to be an old player if you’re not a good player.”
Then Wainwright had a laugh at the suggestion that he’s old enough to be Soroka’s old man.
“Yeah, I guess I could be,” Wainwright said. “I haven’t thought of it before now. Thank you.”
Wainwright certainly didn’t show his age on Sunday, however, hitting a pitch count of 120 before exiting in the eighth inning with the bases loaded. He became the older pitcher to throw 120 or more pitches in a playoff game since Roger Clemens through 138 in the 2000 ALCS vs. Seattle.
ONE AND DONE?
Though the Cardinals were one out away from taking a potentially commanding lead in the series, there has to be come concern about their offence. In the past two games, they’ve managed to get just one run across the plate.
“It was a combination of things,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “Their guy was good. That was a pitcher’s dual. One of the reasons these guys are in the postseason is because their pitching is good. Today is no exception.
“Playoff baseball tomorrow, I look forward to scoring 10.”
There’s no doubt that the Cardinals were gutted, given the blown lead and the effort by Wainwright.
“Yeah, you’re one out away from being up 2-1 there’s disappointment,” Shildt said. “No question about it. We took what we felt was our best shot to win that game and it didn’t work out.
“You get invested for eight and two-thirds and go out and lay it out there and play the game and you get a great pitching performance you’re an out away.
“Yeah, that doesn’t feel real good.”
AROUND THE BASES: The Braves took a lead in games for the first time in their previous nine tries. The previous time they had the upper hand in a postseason matchup was in 2002 when they took Game 2 and 3 against the San Francisco Giants. The previous time the Braves captured a series is even longer, however, dating back to the 2001 NLDS vs. Houston.
– It was the first time the Braves won a postseason game when trailing entering the ninth inning since the 1998 divisional round series vs the Cubs.
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