Sean Newcomb

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Cardinals rally late, hang on to defeat Braves 7-6 in NLDS Game 1

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The Cardinals rallied late and held on to take Game 1 of the NLDS 7-6 over the Braves in Atlanta Thursday evening.

The Cardinals committed a costly fielding error in the first inning, helping the Braves acquire an early lead. Ronald Acuña Jr. drew a leadoff walk off of Miles Mikolas but was quickly erased attempting to steal second base. Ozzie Albies then drew a walk of his own and moved to third base when Freddie Freeman slapped a single to left field. The next batter, Josh Donaldson, hit a grounder to second baseman Kolten Wong, fielding the ball just to the right of the second base bag. Wong, attempting to field the ball and shovel the ball to shortstop Paul DeJong in one motion, instead booted the ball, recording zero outs.

Dallas Keuchel held the Cardinals’ bats at bay until the fifth inning. Harrison Bader led off with an infield single and moved to second on a Mikolas sacrifice bunt. Bader then stole third base off of Keuchel before touching home on a Dexter Fowler ground out to the right side, tying the game at 1-1.

In the bottom of the sixth, lefty Tyler Webb took the mound but found himself in trouble quickly. He hit Donaldson with a pitch, putting a runner on base with one out. Nick Markakis then hit a grounder to Paul Goldschmidt that took a very high bounce, resulting a double that put runners on second and third for the Braves. Pinch-hitter Adam Duvall was intentionally walked to set up a double play opportunity with a force at every base. Righty Giovany Gallegos entered in relief of Webb, facing pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli. Gallegos won the battle, getting Cervelli to check-swing on an outside pitch. On appeal, first base umpire Alan Porter rung Cervelli up, revealing light at the end of the tunnel for the Cardinals. Dansby Swanson, however, hit a sharp ground ball to third baseman Tommy Edman, who took the bounce off of his chest. The ball ricoheted to DeJong, who quickly fired the ball to Wong at second base in an attempt to get the inning-ending out. Wong wasn’t able to handle the short hop, allowing two Braves runners to score, giving them a 3-1 lead.

At long last, the Cardinals put together a sustained offensive threat in the top of the eighth. Just before the inning started, Braves reliever Chris Martin suffered a left oblique injury while warming up, so Luke Jackson entered the game in his place and immediately gave up a long solo home run to Goldschmidt. DeJong and Wong kept rallying with a pair of two-out singles. DeJong scored when pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter dunked a single into left field but Duvall threw out Wong at home plate attempting to score the go-ahead run, ending the inning.

The rally continued in the top of the ninth. Fowler and Edman hit back-to-back one-out singles off of Mark Melancon, who then walked Paul Goldschmidt — the old unintentional-intentional walk — to load the bases. Ozuna fell behind 0-2 to Melancon, then was able to sneak a sharp grounder down the left field line to plate two, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead. The bleeding continued as Melancon intentionally walked Yadier Molina, then gave up another two-run double, this time to Kolten Wong. Sean Newcomb entered in relief of Melancon, finally plugging the leak to send the game into the bottom of the ninth.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called on closer Carlos Martínez to protect the four-run lead. Martínez issued a leadoff walk to speedster Billy Hamilton, then coughed up a no-doubt two-run home run to Acuña, reducing the lead to 7-5. Freddie Freeman followed up with a no-doubt solo home run to straightaway center field, cutting it to 7-6. Martínez was able to hang on to the shrunken lead, getting Donaldson to ground out and Markakis to strike out looking to end the game.

With a 1-0 series lead, the Cardinals will look to get another road win in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday. First pitch is slated for 4:37 PM ET.