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Cardinals v Pittsburgh NLDS Game 1

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese dives to catch a line drive off the bat of Pittsburgh Pirates' Clint Barmes in third inning action during Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

Cardinals third baseman David Freese rushed into the clubhouse, holding a full bottle of water to chug and apologizing for keeping the assembled journalists waiting awhile after the game. Baseball’s drug-testers descended on him after the Cardinals’ 9-1 victory in Game 1 as they do around baseball this time of year and were waiting for a sample from him — and waiting and waiting and waiting.

He told them it could be a while before he delivered.

That’s something new this time of year.

“He’s St. Louis’ version of Mr. October, isn’t he?” ace Adam Wainwright asked.

Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP, had two hits and two RBIs in the Cardinals’ win against Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium. He poked a single down the first-base line for a hit that led to three runs for the Cardinals in their decisive seven-run third inning. An aggravating season for the third baseman that saw him finish with nine homers and a .262 average melted away as he returned to being one of the best playoff hitters around.

“I think when we won the division (title) that’s the best I’ve slept,” Freese said. “You grind it out and things can turn around. I had a frustrating year. But it takes a team to win a division and I was happy to be a part of it.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny gave Freese the final two days of the regular season off, holding him out of the lineup to rest and nurture the swing he found toward the end of the year. Matheny acknowledged that “five days might have seemed like a lot, but (in Game 1) it looked like that was about right.”

Freese’s single in the third inning extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the division series. His two RBIs tied Yadier Molina for the third-most postseason RBIs in club history, at 27. One game into his third October with the Cardinals, Freese trails only Albert Pujols (52) and Jim Edmonds (41).

He’s a .365 hitter with eight RBIs in 11 division series games.

The numbers say it, but he’s not ready to claim Wainwright’s nickname.

“He doesn’t need to be saying that,” Freese said.

FIRST PITCH

Although it won’t be competition and it certainly won’t be thrown in anger, veteran ace Chris Carpenter will deliver one pitch this postseason for the Cardinals. General manager John Mozeliak asked the righty to throw the ceremonial first pitch of today’s Game 2 as a nod to his shutout in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against Philadelphia.

Carpenter joked that he has some experience on the mound, “but not for a long time.”

The righty has missed this entire season and most of the past two seasons because of nerve trouble in his right shoulder that could end his career. He has dodged saying the word “retirement.” The Cardinals sought some way to honor the veteran, who has won more postseason games than any other Cardinals starter, but wanted to do so without the hint of finality.

It will be Carpenter’s first career ceremonial first pitch.

He’s not nervous.

“To be a part of the postseason as a bystander or a cheerleader, it’s a little different for me,” Carpenter said. “I’ll get warm. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get it there.”

ROOKIES GET TASTE

The eight-run win in Game 1 allowed Matheny to deploy his rookie relievers in their potential roles — Carlos Martinez in the eighth inning and Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth — and get rookie Kolten Wong his first postseason at-bat. Wong represents one of the Cardinals’ options off what is both a young and different bench from past postseasons.

With Allen Craig (foot) injured and Matt Adams in the starting lineup, the Cardinals lack thump from the bench. The non-starters on the roster are geared more toward late-game defensive replacements, like shortstop Pete Kozma, or speed merchants, like Adron Chambers or Wong. Shane Robinson has the most experience as a pinch hitter, and he had two of the bench’s collective four homers this season.

“We’ve had some different guys come in and be able to contribute and be that bench player,” Matheny said. “Has anybody really jumped into that role? Matt Adams did a nice job. (We) didn’t have anybody to really grab ahold of the position and say this is somebody we’re willing to go to on a consistent basis. Look at our lineup (and) there not a whole lot of time we’re going run into that situation.”

KELLY TO START GAME 3

One common thread through the three games the Cardinals won at PNC Park this season was a pitcher involved in them: Joe Kelly. The righty allowed a total of one run in 14 innings at Pittsburgh this season, and he collected two wins as a starter and pitched two scoreless innings in the Cardinals’ other victory. On Wednesday Matheny announced Kelly as the starter for the first game of the NLDS at PNC.

EXTRA BASES

Major League Baseball and its broadcast partners announced that Game 3 of the Cardinals-Pirates NLDS will be 3:37 p.m. St. Louis time from PNC Park. … The Pirates set their final roster for the NLDS on Thursday morning, carrying John Buck as the backup catcher and Garrett Jones as lefthanded power off the bench. … The Cardinals claimed outfielder Joey Butler off waivers from Texas on Thursday morning. Butler, 27, appeared in eight games in the majors in 2013 and hit .291 with 12 homers at the Rangers’ Class AAA affiliate. The righthanded-hitting, versatile outfielder was removed from Texas’ 40-man roster to make room for outfielder Nelson Cruz after his PED-related suspension ended. … Pedro Alvarez’s home run was the first by a Pirates’ third baseman since 1979.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.