Cardinals' pitchers ready, but not able
Tony La Russa doesn't go to bullpen in fifth inning, and Brewers erupt in Game 1 win
MILWAUKEE -- It was the first inning, and St. Louis Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia was laboring. He had already given up a two-run homer to Ryan Braun, and the concern was great enough that manager Tony La Russa had rookie reliever Lance Lynn -- who hadn't pitched since Aug. 9 -- up in the bullpen.
That's how concerned La Russa was, and how important it was to not fall into a deep hole against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, where Milwaukee has been so dominant. Garcia would survive the first, but when it all fell apart for the Cardinals in the fifth inning -- when the Brewers scored six times -- La Russa's failure to summon Octavio Dotel in enough time may have cost his team. The Brewers never lost the lead after that inning en route to their 9-6 win in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
"It was a weird inning because [Garcia] was really good," La Russa said, "and then bam, bam. And it was gone."
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The bam, bam, bam was three consecutive pitches Garcia threw, which resulted in four runs. In fairness to La Russa, the speed with which it all fell apart made it difficult for him to even summon help. It all started with Corey Hart's leadoff single. Then, on two consecutive pitches, Jerry Hairston doubled and Braun followed with a two-run double. At that point, La Russa could have tried to rush Lynn out, but he felt that since it was just two bad pitches, Garcia still could get out of it.
For good reason, since Fielder promptly followed Braun by taking the first pitch he saw and lasering it for a two-run homer to right. The speed of the ball off Fielder's bat was 119.2 mph, the highest speed for any homer hit in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"That was one of the hardest-hit balls I've ever seen," Braun said.
Miller Park, already known as one of the loudest ballparks in the big leagues, roared as the Brewers went from a 4-2 deficit to a 6-4 lead in a matter of moments.
Not that Dotel would have probably been much help. Once he came in for Garcia, he immediately made a two-base throwing error when he misplayed Rickie Weeks' comebacker.
Yuniesky Betancourt then followed with a two-run shot. That made it a six-run inning for the Brewers, matching the team's postseason record for most in an inning, which coincidentally came during Game 4 of the 1982 World Series against the Cardinals. The six hits in the inning also set a postseason team record for most in an inning.
It seemed the game was destined to be high-scoring, when both benches were warned after Garcia hit Fielder in the first. Braun had just launched his 463-foot homer, and the first pitch after was in Fielder's upper back.
The move to have Lynn warm up in the first was interesting, and La Russa said he didn't want the game to get out of hand.
"Everything [Garcia] was throwing was right here," La Russa says, motioning with his hands up high.
Lynn, who had been on the 60-day disabled list the past two months because of a strained oblique, was added to the roster this round to provide depth. He said the call to get ready in the first was a bit unexpected, but he knew it would only take 10 to 15 pitches to warm up.
"These guys can put up runs quick, and you don't ever want to get them going," Lynn said. "And they ended up getting going in the fifth and that ended [up being] the one that hurt us. You don't want to get down by too much after the first."
Garcia got out of the first, starting a stretch in which he set down 11 of 13, until "things got ugly in the fifth," he said. "I wasn't able to get the job done."
The power with which Milwaukee attacked here should be no surprise, frankly, because the Brewers have been superb at Miller Park all season, setting a franchise record with 57 home wins, a big league-best .704 home winning percentage. They won all three playoff games here in the first round, needing a Game 5 walk-off single by Nyjer Morgan in the 10th here to make it to this series.
The Cardinals knew all this coming in. In fact, earlier this season they suggested that Milwaukee might have been getting some added help. La Russa filed a complaint with the umpires about an LED board the Cardinals suspected lit differently for the Brewers, suggesting that it adversely affected the visiting team's ability to read the ball. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin denied his team was stealing signs, and that was the end of it.
With that backdrop entering Sunday afternoon's game here -- along with other incidents, including Zack Greinke calling Cards ace Chris Carpenter "phony" on the eve of this series -- it was not surprising to see an emphasis on the drama. Afterward, the players wanted no part of that narrative.
"Whatever happened during the season, you flip the page," said Albert Pujols, who went 1-for-4. "And you just play the game hard and you play it the right way."
There has been a lot of talk that the Brewers are the ones who don't heed that advice. But on Sunday afternoon, the way they played was right enough to give them a 1-0 lead in this series.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.