The game had all the makings of a St. Louis win. The Cardinals got an early 1-0 lead after Marcell Ozuna scored after he doubled, Yadier Molina moved him over, and Matt Carpenter got him in on sacrifice fly. Longtime starter star Adam Wainwright went 7.2 innings strong, not allowing a run. At the first sign of trouble, stud relief man Andrew Miller closed the door at a potential Braves comeback, and St. Louis took their slim lead into the 9th inning.
Despite a leadoff double by Josh Donaldson, Atlanta’s chances dwindled as Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez recorded back-to-back strikeouts. After pinch-runner Billy Hamilton stole third, St. Louis decided to intentionally walk veteran Brian McCann.
That brought up Dansby Swanson. Mostly known for his defense, Swanson only hit .251 this season but had already had a hit in each of the two previous NLDS games, and registered two more hits on Sunday.
The Cardinals decided to challenge him to get his third hit of the night, in the most important spot of the Braves season to date – and Swanson executed brilliantly, hitting a double to left field that scored Hamilton and brought the go-ahead run to second.
Adam Duvall followed that up with a single that scored both the pinch-running Ortega and Swanson, giving Atlanta 3-1 lead.
However, the game wasn’t over just yet and the Cards wouldn’t go down easily. Kolten Wong almost legged out an infield single, but Swanson was able to get off a quick throw that first basemen Freddie Freeman barely kept his foot on the base for. Paul Goldschmidt then gave St. Louis life when he legged out a double to right field, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Braves closer Mark Melancon, who had registered and blew a save in the previous two games, was able to stay cool, calm, and collected despite the pressure. He struck out Ozuna and got Yadi to line out to center to secure an Atlanta win and take a 2-1 lead in the series.
Game 4 of the NLDS did not disappoint in the least bit – it included dominate pitching by each ballclub, clutch hitting from each lineup, and late-game fireworks that resulted in a classic playoff baseball matchup.
This win sets the stage for the Braves to control their own destiny. By stealing the first game on the road, they will get two chances to secure a spot in the National League Championship Series. While taking back-to-back games in St. Louis will be a challenge, a potential series-deciding Game 5 will be back in Atlanta, where they can have the backing of an energetic home crowd to help them to victory.
Swanson has had an incredible postseason run so far, now hitting .454 in the NLDS, but all three games in the series have came down to the last few frames. Atlanta will need to put together a complete-game effort if they plan on taking down a talented and experienced St. Louis team.