PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pushed to the brink, the St. Louis Cardinals and rookie Michael Wacha pushed back.
Now it's back to Busch Stadium with a trip to the NL championship series on the line for baseball's most resilient team and the club they've been unable to shake for the better part of six months.
Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth and the Cardinals avoided elimination with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday in Game 4 of the NL division series to set up a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Adam Wainwright will start for the NL Central champion Cardinals against Pittsburgh rookie Gerrit Cole. Both pitchers won earlier in the series.
"It's going to be fun," Carlos Beltran said. "We're going back home, we have our best pitcher on the mound — our ace — and I really like our chances."
So do the Pirates.
Manager Clint Hurdle opted for Cole rather than veteran A.J. Burnett after the Cardinals shelled Burnett for seven runs in two-plus innings in Game 1.
"We have one game to win," Hurdle said. "I believe that matchup is the best we can do to beat the Cardinals in Game 5."
Something the Pirates failed to do at home in front of a record crowd at PNC Park anxious to celebrate with champagne for the second time in a week. Pittsburgh popped the bubbly after beating Cincinnati in the wild-card game last Tuesday. This time, the bottles remained corked after Wacha pitched like a guy who'd been in the majors for years, not months.
"He was unhittable, actually," Beltran said. "He gave us an opportunity to win. We scored just two runs, but you just had the feeling it was going to be enough."
St. Louis improved to 7-1 over the last three years with its season on the line when Rosenthal got Pittsburgh MVP-candidate Andrew McCutchen to pop out to second with one on in the ninth.
"I think you take high talent and high character people that are motivated and support each other, and they don't give up," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a tough combination."
One the Pirates are still trying to master.
Pedro Alvarez hit his third home run of the series, connecting with one out in the eighth for Pittsburgh's only hit. It wasn't enough for the Pirates to advance to the NL championship series for the first time in 21 years.
"I guess that's why we play five," McCutchen said. "We'll be ready for the fifth one."