ST. LOUIS (AP) -- It was a wild, wild, wild, wild, wild playoff opener for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The NL Central champions survived epic control problems by rookie starter Rick Ankiel, beat up four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux and capitalized on shoddy Atlanta defense in a 7-5 Game 1 playoff victory Tuesday.
"As great as Maddux is, all starting pitchers will tell you that in the first inning they're vulnerable," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
That went for the rest of the Braves, who committed two errors in the Cardinals' six-run first and could have had a third on Jim Edmonds' fly ball that dropped between Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones and left fielder Reggie Sanders for an RBI single.
"We probably played as bad as you could play, and then nearly ended up winning the game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
That was because the early cushion allowed La Russa to leave Ankiel, 21, in the game long enough to become only the second player in major league history to throw five wild pitches in an inning. Ankiel, a surprise choice as Game 1 starter ahead of 20-game winner and Game 2 starter Darryl Kile, also issued four of his six walks in the third as the Braves scored four runs on only two hits.
La Russa shielded Ankiel from the media on Monday, sending Kile to the interview room as a smokescreen while Ankiel escaped. But Ankiel, who has only 35 career starts, didn't think he had a bad case of nerves.
"Something obviously was wrong," he said. "What do you do? Put it behind you and look forward to the next one."
Despite the problems, La Russa didn't hesitate to say Ankiel will start again in Game 4 on Sunday.
"If we're going to win enough games, Mr. Ankiel is going to have to be there for us," La Russa said.
The bullpen came to the rescue, with four relievers allowing one run on four hits the rest of the way. Winner Mike James allowed one hit and walked one in 2 1-3 innings. Rookie Britt Reames, a last-minute addition to the postseason roster, escaped a seventh-inning jam, and Dave Veres finished for the save.
Placido Polanco, who started ahead of slumping Fernando Tatis, went 3-for-4 with a two-run single in the first. Edmonds had three hits and homered in the fourth.
Jordan also had a run-scoring single and Walt Weiss had a two-run single in the third. It wasn't enough to overcome the Braves' three errors, just two days after Chipper Jones' ninth-inning error cost the defending NL champions homefield advantage in the first round.
Ankiel is only the second pitcher in major league history to throw five wild pitches in an inning. On Sept. 15, 1890, Bert Cunningham did it for Buffalo of the Players League.
All but one of Ankiel's wild pitches were fastballs, most of them high over the head of catcher Carlos Hernandez. The fifth was a curve that bounced about 5 feet in front of the plate.
"A couple of them were too high," Hernandez said. "If I'm Superman, maybe. But I don't think I can fly."
Ankiel threw 12 wild pitches in 175 regular-season innings. More than half (34) of his 66 pitches Tuesday were balls.
Maddux lasted four innings and gave up seven runs, five earned, on nine hits. The four-time Cy Young winner is 10-11 in the postseason, but said his stuff wasn't much different from September when he was 4-1 with an 0.97 ERA.
"I don't really concern myself a whole lot with the results," Maddux said. "I try to stay concerned with pitch selection. Usuallly, if you make enough good pitches, results will follow."
Mark McGwire, limited to one plate appearance per game because of knee pain, pinch hit in the eighth and was intentionally walked by Kerry Ligtenberg.
After a day off Wednesday, the series resumes with Kile pitching for St. Louis against Tom Glavine.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.