The St Louis Cardinals exploded for 10 runs in the biggest first inning in Major League Baseball playoff history on Wednesday, routing the Atlanta Braves 13-1 to book a National League Championship Series showdown with the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals advanced with a 7-3 extra-innings victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where Howie Kendrick belted a grand slam in the 10th to complete Washington’s rally from an 0-3 deficit.
Kendrick’s blast off Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly came after Los Angeles’ three-time Cy Young Award-winner Clayton Kershaw – pitching in relief – gave up home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on back-to-back pitches in the eighth inning.
With the score tied at 3-3, Kelly walked Adam Eaton to lead off the 10th and Rendon doubled before Soto was intentionally walked.
Kendrick fouled off a pitch, then smacked a 97 mph fastball over the wall in centre field.
“You know what, it was electric,” said Kendrick, whose massive shot atoned for three fielding errors in the series. “Probably the best moment of my career.”
The Dodgers had seized the early initiative with homers from Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez.
The Nats pulled a run back when Soto singled in a run in the sixth.
Their late-game turnaround gave the Nationals a 3-2 win in the best-of-five National League Division Series and denied the Dodgers – winners of a whopping 106 regular-season games – in their bid to reach the World Series for a third straight year.
They fell in MLB’s championship showcase to the Houston Astros in 2017 and to the Boston Red Sox last year.
Instead the Nationals – who rallied from a 3-0 eighth-inning deficit to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild card game – will battle the Cardinals for a World Series berth in the NL Championship Series starting on Friday.
“We never gave up,” Kendrick said of a Nats team that started the season 19-31. “The city had faith in us, the fans had faith in us. We believed in ourselves, everybody came through for us.”
All the drama came early in Atlanta, where Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz – who pitched seven scoreless innings in a game-two victory – retired just one batter before he was pulled in the first frame.
Tommy Edman, Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong each had two-run doubles, Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty walked with the bases loaded to force in a run, and St Louis scored their final run of the first on a strikeout when Braves catcher Brian McCann couldn’t corral a pitch in the dirt.
St Louis sent 14 batters to the plate before Braves relief pitcher Max Fried finally ended the inning.
“It’s hard to score 10 runs in an inning without hitting a home run,” mused Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “But just great at-bats, relentless.”
In was the most ever runs in the first inning of a post-season game and tied for the most runs in any inning of a playoff game.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen that many guys hit in the first inning that quick in my entire life,” said shellshocked Braves manager Brian Snitker. “I don’t know. It wasn’t how we drew it up, I know that.
“That thing just kept rolling and we couldn’t stop it.”
The Cardinals’ 13 total runs matched their total in the first four games of the best-of-five NL Division Series.
The Braves endured their 10th straight playoff series defeat while the Cardinals wrapped up a 3-2 series win to reach the NLCS for the first time since 2014.