ST. LOUIS —
The Pittsburgh Pirates are riding high after their first postseason victory in 21 years. They’re confident they can beat anybody, anywhere.
A few hours after defeating Cincinnati in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, the Pirates touched down in St. Louis. They’re about to face another familiar foe in an unfamiliar month when they take on the NL Central champion Cardinals in a best-of-five division series.
“We know them, they know us,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “There won’t be any ball tricks, I hope. No Statue of Liberty plays.”
A.J. Burnett, set to start the series opener Thursday, was a part of three New York Yankees teams that made it to October. He said Wednesday there’s a sense of euphoria with this experience that was lacking before.
“I guess the main thing is, over in New York, it’s expected every year, you know?” Burnett said. “You tend to get in there a couple of weeks before the season ends. And this one was more of a ‘Shock the world, we’re going to do it, we made it!”’
The Pirates won the season series 10-9, but the Cardinals overtook them for the division lead with a four-game sweep at home in early September. St. Louis also has quite an advantage in postseason experience, with several holdovers from the 2011 World Series championship team and from last year, too, when St. Louis fell one win shy of a second straight pennant.
The Cardinals earned some time off after winning six in a row to end the season. They won their first NL Central crown since 2009 and secured home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
Their .330 average with runners in scoring position was the majors’ best dating to 1974, when the statistic was first used. So far, they’ve done fine without injured Allen Craig, who missed almost all of September and isn’t expected back from a left mid-foot sprain until at least the NL championship series.
“We played really well most of the year minus a couple of dips here and there that every team has,” said Matt Holliday, who batted .378 over the final month to finish at .300. “I’d say, just try to roll that momentum into the postseason.”
Adam Wainwright has to like this matchup, too. St. Louis’ ace will pitch the opener and would also be available on full rest for a possible deciding Game 5. He went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh this season.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny described Wainwright, the third pitcher in franchise history to lead the league in wins twice, as a “fierce competitor.”