As dire as their circumstances may be, it wasn’t that long ago that the St. Louis Cardinals were in the same situation.
Coming off a Game 5 loss to the Texas Rangers in the 2011 World Series, their backs were pressed against the wall.
Their offense was scrambling, scoring three runs or fewer in four of the first five games.
They had been shut out by the combination of Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz in Game 4 and scraped together two runs on seven hits in Game 5.
The only significant difference was that they were going home for Game 6.
It took a two-out, two-run triple in the ninth to tie the game, a two-run single by Lance Berkman in the 10th to tie it again, and an 11th-inning walkoff solo homer from David Freese to keep them alive. With the 10-9 win, the Cardinals were able to force a Game 7.
That’s the opening they needed.
In Game 7, Freese — the Series MVP — and Yadier Molina would each drive in two. Chris Carpenter was touched for two in the first before blanking the Rangers until four relievers combined for three perfect innings to finish the 6-2 clincher.
The Cardinals franchise couldn’t be more familiar with being on the brink.
They’ve been down 3-2 in the World Series six times, forced a Game 7 five times, and went on to win the World Series in all five instances.
It’s an experience they hope they can draw from with the Red Sox looking to finish them off Wednesday night at Fenway.
“I think it starts with a mentality that it’s a great challenge,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to go in and prove the kind of team we are as far as how tough we are mentally, and I think that’s where it begins. After that it comes down to execution.
“Once again, we’re in that spot backed up where we had to have a win. It’s not something we haven’t seen before, and the guys know what we have to do; we have to play the game. They have to lock arms, trust each other, and play the game the right way. Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds. And go out and play the game.”
Their fate now rests in the hands of Michael Wacha, a rookie pitcher who hasn’t played like one this postseason.
At 22 years old, Wacha already has the experience of both pitching in an elimination game (which he did in Game 4 of the NLDS with the Cardinals down, 2-1, to the Pirates) and winning in Fenway Park (which he did in Game 2).
“It’s been one of those that’s been fun for us to watch,” Matheny said. “Taking everything into consideration, how this kid was in school — in college — 18 months or so ago, and watch the maturity, and watch the progress, too. I think a lot has to be said about that.’’
Wacha knows this will be different from any of the starts he’s made before. But the goal, he said, is not to make it feel that way.
“I imagine it’s going to be crazy,” said Wacha, who won his last regular-season start and then all four in the postseason. “But I’m not going to pay any attention to it. I’m keep going about my business the way I have been in all my starts this year.”
At the same time, Cardinals realize it will take more than Wacha.
They’ve hit .218 as a team in the series. In the past two games, they’ve gone 10 of 62 (.161) as a team, 2 of 12 (.167) with runners in scoring position.
“The fact that we’re facing an elimination game on the road is not going to get to him,” said the Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. “Hopefully, we can come out and get the offense going for him, give him a little cushion and he can really settle in.’’
Wacha went six innings in Game 2, giving up two runs on just three hits with four walks and six strikeouts, Although he gave up David Ortiz’s two-run, go-ahead homer in the sixth, he was bailed out by his teammates in the top of the seventh. He attacked the Red Sox with his fastball, while chasing it with his change.
But he will have to figure out how to deal with Ortiz, who is hitting .733 in the series. After watching him go 3 for 4 in Game 5, Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright could only describe Ortiz as “out-of-this-world hot.”
The Cardinals have seemingly tried everything, attacking him, intentionally walking him, pitching around him.
“If you know of something, I’m all ears,” Matheny said. “But so far we’ve been trying to pitch him differently. You have to realize it’s not just a hot hitter, it’s a good hitter.
“It’s one that’s been proven over time to be able to step up and really make a good run and put together a consistent approach. So we respect that and understand that. We also understand when our guys are making pitches and we’re doing what we’re trying to do, we can get anybody out. But right now we can’t deny the fact that this guy is extremely hot.”
But Wacha, he said, has been on a tear of his own all postseason.
“He’s been amazing for us in the postseason and we don’t expect anything less for him going back there,” Wainwright said.Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.