St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - David Freese conjured up his postseason heroics from two years ago and Adam Wainwright went the distance to send the St. Louis Cardinals back to the NLCS for the third straight year.
Freese, the MVP of the 2011 World Series, belted an early two-run homer and Matt Adams added another one late as the Cardinals rolled to a 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh Pirates in a decisive Game 5 of the NLDS.
St. Louis won the last two games of the series on the backs of strong starting pitching. Michael Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Monday's tight 2-1 victory, and Wainwright (2-0) followed the rookie's stellar performance with one of his own, scattering eight hits -- all singles -- with a walk and six strikeouts.
"The last two games they kept us off the plate. We had two runs in 18 innings...so we tip our hat to the Cardinals," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
The NL Central champs, who are 8-1 in postseason elimination games over the past three years. will have home-field advantage over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, with Game 1 scheduled for Friday.
The Pirates, looking for their first postseason series win 1979, tabbed rookie Gerrit Cole as their starter rather than Game 1 loser A.J. Burnett. Cole (1-1) threw five solid innings, but was done in by Freese's second-inning homer.
Jon Jay kept the frame going by working an eight-pitch walk after being down in the count. Cole was also ahead of Freese but missed his spot on a 1-2 slider, and Freese sent the mistake into the bullpen beyond the left-field wall for his seventh career postseason homer.
"It was a great feeling," Freese said of his homer. "We were fortunate to get on the board early."
Cole solved Freese in the fourth inning by catching him looking at strike three to strand runners on the corners, this after Adams was tagged out in a rundown between third and home.
Needing an offensive spark since they mustered just two baserunners through five innings, the Pirates pinch-hit for Cole after Clint Barmes led off the sixth with a base hit.
Garrett Jones, however, flew out harmlessly coming off the bench, and Starling Marte bounced into a routine double play to end the inning.
St. Louis tacked on against Pittsburgh's bullpen in the bottom half. Matt Holliday reached on a one-out single and moved to second when Yadier Molina worked a two-out walk. Jay followed with a dribbler up the middle that got through the infield, and Holliday scored without a play at the plate.
Freese struck out again to leave two on, and the Pirates finally got to Wainwright in the next half-inning -- albeit with three consecutive two-out singles that never left the infield.
Justin Morneau started the string by narrowly beating Matt Carpenter's throw from second, and Marlon Byrd legged out a ground ball to short after Pete Kozma opted against an easier force out at second.
Pedro Alvarez benefited from a generous bounce to keep his RBI streak in tact. His chopper down the first-base line hit the bag and arced over Adams' head. Even though Carpenter backed up the play, Alvarez easily made it to first and Morneau raced around for Pittsburgh's first run.
Wainwright shook off the tough break and retired Russell Martin on a fielder's choice, then erased a one-out single in the eighth by getting Marte to line into a twin-killing.
Adams gave the Cardinals some breathing room in their half of the eighth. After Holliday reached on a single, Adams crushed a no-doubter into the right- field seats off Mark Melancon to give the hosts a 5-1 cushion.
Kozma delivered another insurance run with an RBI single, and Wainwright survived a pair of two-out base hits in the ninth by striking out Alvarez to finish off his gem.
"To pitch a game like that is one of highlights of my baseball life, no doubt," Wainwright said. "These are the kind of moments starting pitchers live for."
St. Louis will make its 12th appearance in the NLCS ... This was Wainwright's first complete game in the playoffs; he led the majors with five during the regular season ... Wainwright has won his last six decisions and improved to 3-0 with a 1.26 ERA over his last four playoff starts in St. Louis ... Alvarez is the first player in MLB history to have an RBI in each of his first six playoff games ... Marte and Neil Walker, the first two hitters in Pittsburgh's lineup, went a combined 1-for-38 in the series after going 0-for-7 Wednesday ... Pittsburgh rookie starting pitchers had been 6-0 in postseason play.