ST. LOUIS -- The sound of back-slapping resonated through the visiting clubhouse Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. The Pirates players embraced, their season over, saying goodbye as they prepared for life without a game the next day.
The end of the season came about because of the Pirates' lack of offense. They won 94 games in the regular season because the strength of their pitching staff. That can pan out over a 162-game season. A five-game series does not permit such a luxury.
In Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the Pirates could not solve Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright in a 6-1 loss. The Cardinals won the series, three games to two, and advanced to the National League Championship Series beginning Friday in St. Louis against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"Our goal has always been to be the last team celebrating on the mound at the end of the year," Pedro Alvarez said. "That was cut short for us this year. All we can do now is continue to work hard and work as a unit, as a team, and keep growing together."
The loss ended the Pirates' first postseason appearance since 1992. They defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card game to reach the NLDS. After dropping Game 1 to the Cardinals on the road, they won Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. In the final two games, however, Wainwright and Michael Wacha rendered the Pirates' bats useless.
Wainwright pitched a complete game, allowing one run on eight hits while walking one and striking out six.
"They were pretty clear what their strategy was going to be," Wainwright said.
"They weren't going to swing at any curveballs. That's what I kept hearing. That's OK, I can throw it for strikes."
St. Louis held the Pirates to two runs in their final 18 innings. Starling Marte and Neil Walker went a combined 1 for 38 in the series.
Alvarez, though, continued to produce, becoming the first player in Major League Baseball history to drive in a run in his first six postseason games.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, put up four of their six runs with homers, one from David Freese, the other from Matt Adams. They forced the Pirates to use five relievers.
"We've gotten a taste of what it's like," Alvarez said. "Frustrating to go home.
"It's just like we can't dwell on a loss during the season, we got to do the same thing. We go home, soak it in, take it all in, reflect on it and get ready for next year."
Manager Clint Hurdle had to decide between rookie starter Gerrit Cole, who pitched well in Game 2, and A.J. Burnett, a veteran with postseason experience who has struggled at Busch Stadium as a Pirate. Hurdle chose Cole, who allowed one run in six innings in Game 2.
Cole allowed three hits through five innings.
His only major mistake, a bad curveball to Freese, became a two-run home run that essentially spelled the difference. Cole walked one and struck out five.
He was due up second in the sixth, at which point Hurdle replaced him with a pinch-hitter.
"At the time, if it's a different game, probably could ride him a little bit longer," Hurdle said.
Cole opposed Wainwright, who had held the Pirates to one run in seven innings in a Game 1 win in which he also struck out nine and walked none.
"After that first game, to be honest with you, they were going to have to make me adjust," Wainwright said. "I was going to do the exact same thing."
Freese entered Game 5 with a .325 average and six home runs in 35 postseason games. He earned most valuable player honors in the 2011 World Series, largely for his Game 6 heroics that included a tying triple in the ninth inning and a walk-off homer in the 11th.
In this NLDS, however, he had two hits, both singles, in 13 at-bats over the first four games.
But he added to those numbers quickly in Game 5.
After Jon Jay worked a two-out, eight-pitch walk in the second. Freese hit a 1-2 curveball into the Pirates bullpen, giving Wainwright and the Cardinals an early, 2-0 lead.
"It was obviously a great feeling," Freese said.
Three ground balls helped the Pirates score with two out in the seventh.
Justin Morneau reached first on an infield hit as did Marlon Byrd. Pete Kozma fielded Byrd's hit, but chose not to try for the force at second, and Byrd beat Kozma's throw to first. Alvarez chopped a 3-2 pitch off the first-base bag, over Adams' head and down the right-field line to score the Pirates only run.
Now, they head into the offseason pleased with their performance this year but bitter about the final result.
"We definitely had an amazing year," Andrew McCutchen said. "A year to remember. A year that's going to go down in the books forever. Definitely happy to be a part of it."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published October 9, 2013 7:01 PM