ST. LOUIS — In the end, pedigree won out over pluckiness.
The Cardinals showcased their October prowess on Wednesday night, advancing to the 11th league championship series in franchise history with a 6-1 victory over the upstart Pirates in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
David Freese hit a two-run blast in the second to put the Cardinals in the driver’s seat before Matt Adams’ two-run bomb in the eighth knocked out the Pirates, whose first postseason trip since 1992 ended in bitterness.
The Pirates held a 2-1 series lead before the Cardinals rallied for back-to-back victories, this one behind their ace Adam Wainwright. The righthander allowed just one run for nine dominant innings to propel the Cardinals to their third straight NLCS.
Game 1 against the Dodgers will be on Friday in St. Louis.
The Cardinals punched their ticket by blowing the game open in a three-run eighth, with the decisive shot coming off the bat of Adams, whose two-run homer off ex-Yankees reliever Mark Melancon sucked the life out of the Pirates.
They had shown signs of a pulse using three infield hits to scratch out a run in the seventh. And in the eighth, the Pirates brought the tying run to the plate. Down 3-1, Jordy Mercer singled to bring up Starling Marte. But Marte lined out to second and Mercer was doubled off in a close play.
It proved to be the Pirates’ last gasp.
The Cardinals struck first in the second, turning a two-out rally into a 2-0 lead. Jon Jay worked a walk, bringing up Freese, who was hitting just .154 in the NLDS. But the former World Series MVP flashed his postseason pedigree.
When Cole missed with a slider over the inner half of the plate, Freese was ready to pounce, making it 2-0 when his homer landed over the leftfield fence and into the middle of the Pirates bullpen. The homer was Freese’s seventh in 36 postseason games.
It was the only real damage surrendered by 23-year-old Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, who made the start ahead of veteran and former Yankee A.J. Burnett. Just as he did in Game 2, the rookie Cole looked comfortable, working out of trouble while touching 100 mph with his fastball.
He went five innings, allowing just two runs on three hits, before he was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
In the sixth, the Cardinals added an insurance run behind another key two-out hit, this time from Jon Jay. His single off Pirates reliever Justin Wilson pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0, to the delight of a sold out crowd at Busch Stadium that exploded when Matt Holliday touched home plate.
The way Wainwright pitched, the three runs would have been plenty.
The Cardinals ace got a little help. In the fourth, shortstop Pete Kozma put on a show, squashing a potential rally with his glove. His diving catch took away a leadoff hit from Neil Walker. And his play deep in the hole robbed Justin Morneau of a two-out single.
Wainwright, long an October stalwart, took care of the rest.
With his trademark curveball, he pushed through until the ninth, when he sprinted from the dugout to finish off his complete game. It ended with a strikeout of Alvarez, then a mob scene in front of the pitchers mound, where catcher Yadier Molina was the first to greet him.