Axford contributes to Redbirds Game 1 win

* RP John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) is contributing to the St. Louis Cardinals post-season run, having worked in three playoff games: two against the Pittsburgh Pirates and he worked a scoreless 11th as the Cards edged the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in 13 inning. ....  

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By Bob Elliott

St. LOUIS _ It wasn’t a save situation.

Yet, it might as well have been.

The St. Louis Cardinals had received an excellent outing from starter Joe Kelly -- two runs in six innings -- and then four relievers Randy Choate (1/3 of an inning), Seth Maness (2/3 of an inning), Carlos Martinez (one inning) and Trevor Rosenthal (two) combined to work four scoreless and now they needed another zero in the 11th inning of Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cards didn’t want to lose the opener after pitching so well.

They couldn’t lose Game 1, with Games 3-4-5 on the west coast.

Warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the 10th was John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.).

Manager Mike Matheny wanted him to keep the score at 2-2.

“I had the same energy and anxiety I always have warming up in the bullpen,” Axford would say later.

When pinch hitter Kolten Wong bounced out to end the 10th, the bullpen door opened and on came Axford.

He was facing Yasil Puig, the talk of the NLCS, the man who can leap tall buildings, throw guys out from the warning track and hit mammoth homers.

Best of luck.

On the mound, with a sold out crowd of 46,691 ready to cheer every strike, Axford was back to normal.

“I had a calmness, the same as when I closed games for the Milwaukee Brewers in the post season against Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis.

“I’ve always loved pitching in that situation.”

Axford, who had three saves and a win in six games in 2011, peered in and saw a sign for a curve ball from gold glove catcher Yadier Molina. 

Ball one.

Another breaking ball.

Ball two.

Now, with Puig ready to come out of his shoes, it was time for a fastball.

Puig nearly came out of his shoes with a hard swing ... and a miss attempting to hit the ball over the arch.

“We tried to get a little run on the ball, tried to get the ball in on him,” said Axford.

Puig swung so hard he nearly fell down.

A 2-1 count.

Another four-seam fastball was fouled off.

Now, the count was even 2-2.

A third four-seamer in row was fouled off again.

The count stayed level.

And now a fifth four-seamer.

Now, the Cuban defector was either looking for another pitch or thought the ball was outside.

Whatever, he went down looking as plate Gerry Davis raised his right arm.

Strike three ... looking.

One out.

Next, Dominican dandy Juan Uribe grounded to shortstop Pete Kozma on a 2-1 pitch.

Two out.

Andre Ethier drew a five pitch walk, three straight curve balls and two fastballs.

A.J. Ellis singled on a 1-1 pitch to put the potential lead run on second base.

Now, it was Nick Punto, who played for Team Italy in wins over Canada in 2009 and this March, pinch hitting.

Punto took a four-seam fastball for strike one.

He took another one for strike two.

After Axford wasted a slider in the dirt, which Molina blocked, the count ran to 1-2.

Punto fouled a fastball which Molina held onto for strike three.

Axford had a scoreless inning in a Game 3 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL division series and walked two in 1/3 of an inning in a scoreless outing a 7-1 Game 2 loss to the Bucs.

“I had a couple of base runners against Pittsburgh, I felt like I could do better,” said Axford, who kept Game 1 against the Dodgers scoreless in the 11th.

Starter turned reliever Lance Lynn put up two more zeros and then Carlos Beltran singled home the game winner with two out in the bottom of the 13th ending the four hour and 47 minute game.

Axford has worked 9 1/3 innings in nine post-season games allowing one run on six hits and five walks while striking out 11 for an 0.96 ERA.

“It’s a storied franchise, and that gets ingrained in their players coming through,” Axford told when asked his evaluation of the Cardinals from inside the clubhouse, rather than opposing dugout.

“From the other side, you wondered how and why every guy coming in from the ‘pen was throwing 98 [mph], hitting their spots and doing it in a professional manner, under control, always collected out there on the mound. Being on the other side, it was frustrating,” Axford said. “Now that I’m here and knowing their personalities, there seems to be something that is already instilled in them. They have this sense that they’re playing for the Cardinals and that’s something bigger than themselves.

“You don’t come into this clubhouse as an individual, you come in here as a team. The guys who have been here before you make sure you’re aware of that. I think that’s something that’s really special to this organization.”

Axford, who earned $5 million U.S. is arbitration-eligible next year, was 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 62 games with the Brewers, walking 23 and striking out 54 in 54 2/3 innings.

After being dealt from the Brewers for Michael Blazek he was 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA walking three and fanning 11 in 10 1/3 innings with the Cards.