Baseball / MLB

Cardinals rally in ninth to win NLDS opener

AP, Reuters

Marcell Ozuna and Kolten Wong each hit two-run doubles in the ninth inning as the St. Louis Cardinals overcame shaky defense and a wild finish to extend Atlanta’s postseason misery, holding off the Braves 7-6 in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night.

The Cardinals, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015, fell behind 3-1 hurt by their normally reliable defense.

But Paul Goldschmidt homered in the eighth, sparking a two-run outburst that made it 3-3. In the ninth, St. Louis blew it open against Atlanta closer Mark Melancon.

Dexter Fowler and Tommy Edman singled before Goldschmidt walked on four pitches to load the bases with one out. Melancon got ahead of Ozuna with two quick strikes, only to give up a liner just inside the third-base bag that put the Cardinals ahead for the first time.

Wong finished off Melancon with another two-run double, this one down the right-field line.

“I loved our at-bats all night,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said. “I love Marcell’s at-bats. Just calm, letting the game come to him.”

The Braves didn’t go quietly in their half.

Ronald Acuna Jr. hit a two-run homer off Carlos Martinez, and Freddie Freeman added a solo shot. But Martinez got the final two outs to claim a shaky win and put the Cardinals head in the best-of-five series going into Game 2 Friday. Jack Flaherty starts for St. Louis against Mike Foltynewicz.

It was a familiar scenario for Atlanta, which has lost nine straight postseason series and is just one away from tying the Chicago Cubs’ record for postseason futility — 10 straight playoff losses. The Braves have not won a postseason series since 2001, and haven’t even led a series since going up 2-1 on San Francisco in the 2002 NLDS. The Giants won the next two games to advance.

Atlanta snapped a 1-1 tie in the sixth when Dansby Swanson slashed a one-hopper that bounced off the chest of third baseman Edman. The ball deflected to shortstop Paul DeJong, who had a chance to get a force at second base for the third out. But the throw to Wong was a bouncer, the ball shooting off his glove to allow a second run to score on the play.

Both Edman and DeJong were charged with errors initially, which would have been the Cardinals’ first three-error game of the season. The official scorer changed his ruling, giving Swanson a hit on his wicked shot.

Wong also messed up an attempted backhanded toss for an error in the first, helping the Braves grab a 1-0 lead.

It was totally uncharacteristic for a St. Louis team that led the majors during the regular season with just 66 errors and a .989 fielding percentage.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

Dodgers 6, Nationals 0

In Los Angeles, Walker Buehler gave up one hit over six scoreless innings and Max Muncy drove in three runs as the Dodgers earned a victory over Washington in their NLDS opener.

Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson added home runs in the eighth inning as Los Angeles opened its bid for a third consecutive World Series appearance. Lux’s homer came in his first career playoff at-bat.

Muncy was a factor in each of the first four Dodgers runs. He walked with the bases loaded in the first inning, hit a ground ball through the legs of Nationals first baseman Howie Kendrick in the fifth inning to bring home a run and had a two-run single in the seventh.

Washington starter Patrick Corbin (0-1) gave up two runs on just three hits over six innings, but allowed five walks with nine strikeouts. Four of Corbin’s walks came in the opening inning to give the Dodgers the early lead.

“We didn’t play very well today,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We walked a lot of guys and chased a lot of bad pitches. At one point we were way over 20 pitches that we chased and that is very uncharacteristic of our team.

“Usually we don’t chase and make guys throw it in the zone. When you walk guys and aren’t hitting, it’s tough to win ballgames.”

Buehler (1-0) gave up a single to Juan Soto to lead off the second inning and little else as he took over the Game 1 role from staff ace Clayton Kershaw, who will pitch in Game 2 on Friday. Buehler gave up three walks with eight strikeouts in his fifth career playoff start. It was his first career playoff victory.

“Walker, time and time again, just knows how to temper his emotions and transfer that into delivery, execution of pitches,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “Today, from that first throw, he was on point tonight. The delivery, the tempo was all consistent. . . . That’s a really good lineup over there and for him to go six (innings), we needed that. “

Adam Kolarek, Kenta Maeda and Joe Kelly finished off the shutout for the Dodgers, who led the NL with a 3.78 ERA from their bullpen during the regular season. The Nationals had just two hits.

Maeda worked 1⅔ scoreless inning without allowing a hit. He struck out two batters.

A.J. Pollock led off the first inning with a walk for Los Angeles before Corbin recorded a pair of strikeouts. Consecutive walks to Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor and Muncy got Corbin’s first career playoff start off to a rocky beginning.

The left-hander settled down until giving up a two-out walk to Bellinger in the fifth. After an infield single from Taylor, Muncy’s hard grounder went through Kendrick’s legs for a run, with Taylor thrown out at home by right fielder Adam Eaton on the play.

Two more walks in the seventh helped set up Muncy’s two-run single, matching his high for RBIs in a playoff game, also achieved in Game 1 of last year’s NLDS against the Atlanta Braves.