(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
As for the Philadelphia Phillies? Things have turned downright squirrelly.
David Freese, who was shut down by the Phillies in the first three games, became a hometown star Wednesday night. He homered, doubled and drove in four runs to help the Cardinals defeat nemesis Roy Oswalt and force a deciding fifth game in their NL playoff series by beating the favored Phillies 5-3.
"This is what you worked for," said Freese, a local prep star who came to the Cardinals in a trade for Jim Edmonds after the 2007 season. "Just to do this in front of the fans of St. Louis and a bunch of friends and family, it's amazing."
Center fielder Jon Jay made a sliding catch on Placido Polanco's soft fly for the final out. He already was pointing his index finger before he got to his feet.
(JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)
Now it's back to Philadelphia for Game 5 on Friday night. Roy Halladay, who won the opener for the Phillies, will face St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter. They were teammates in Toronto for five years.
"Might be fitting that it goes down to the fifth game," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's up to us to go get it. It's sitting right there for us. We've got our ace going and we're at home, and so everything is sitting right there."
The 102-win Phillies were picked by many to win it all. But first they must dispose of the wild-card Cardinals, who clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season and have gotten the best of two members of the Phils' star-studded rotation.
An omen, maybe: A squirrel darted across the plate right after Oswalt threw a pitch during the fifth inning.
(CHARLIE RIEDEL ~ Associated Press)
"I didn't want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it," Oswalt said. "I was wondering what size of animal it needed to be for it not to be a pitch."
Manuel argued to no avail.
"Of course, being from the South and being a squirrel hunter, if I had a gun there, might have did something," Manuel said. "I'm a pretty good shot."
Albert Pujols was hitless in four at-bats in what could have been his final home game with the Cardinals. He received thunderous cheers every trip to the plate from a standing room crowd of 47,071, second-largest at six-year-old Busch Stadium.
"This is obviously the playoffs, but that's a play I can make in the regular season, too," Pujols said. "If I would have stayed on the bag, it was going to be tough to get the runner at third. Obviously, that killed the rally right there."
Edwin Jackson recovered from a rocky beginning to win his first playoff start. He wound up throwing six solid innings after giving up two runs on his first five pitches. Jason Motte worked a perfect ninth for his second save of the series.
Phillies cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, who is a St. Louis product like Freese, was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He is 0 for 8 with five strikeouts and has hit only one ball out of the infield during the last two games.
"I think I've been a little bit anxious trying to go up and trying to make things happen instead of letting things happen," Howard said. "Right now I'm just kind of jumping, so just try to recognize pitches better."
Oswalt had been 5-0 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 previous postseason starts, the biggest closing out old Busch Stadium and the Cardinals in 2005 to get Houston to its first World Series. The right-hander also worked seven shutout innings against St. Louis in the Phillies' NL East division clincher in mid-September.
"It's good to get some early runs, for sure," Oswalt said. "I felt pretty comfortable after that. Just two bad pitches."
The biggest jolts for the Cardinals came from their seventh-place hitter. Freese was 2 for 12 with one RBI during the first three games before punishing the fourth of the Phillies' aces.
Freese's two-run double down the third-base line in the fourth put St. Louis up 3-2. His two-run homer to straightaway center in the sixth whipped the crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.
Oswalt walked Berkman and hit Matt Holliday, who was making his first start of the series, to begin the fourth. Pence made a running catch on the right field warning track to rob Yadier Molina of extra bases, but Freese jumped on a hanging curveball with a drive down the left-field line.
Holliday singled with one out in the sixth, and Freese hit a 1-0 pitch to the pasture in straightaway center, not far from where a squirrel made an early appearance, for a three-run cushion. A squirrel also interrupted play in the fifth, racing across the plate an instant after Oswalt's pitch to Skip Schumaker passed for a ball.
Oswalt argued with plate umpire Angel Hernandez, asking for no pitch. Schumaker flied out on the next.