ATLANTA -- Kyle Lohse was not the sexy pick for a must-win game, but by all measures, he was the most deserving. And entrusted with the task of extending the Cardinals' season, the right-hander delivered a start like so many others he made during the season.
After being tagged by a home run early, Lohse allowed the Braves nothing more, handing a lead to a bullpen that went on to record the final 10 outs in a 6-3 Wild Card win at Turner Field.
With it, Lohse picked up the first postseason victory of his career.
"It feels great that they would have that confidence in me to line that up to where I would get that start," said Lohse, a 16-game winner during the regular season. "My thought is, first off, I have to do what I've been doing all year. Second, I want to give these other guys in the rotation a chance to pitch. It was as good a feeling as you can get."
In a rotation in which he has long been overshadowed by Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, Lohse continued both his career year and his tenure in St. Louis. Expected to leave via free agency this winter, Lohse, chosen in March to be the Opening Day starter, hardly appeared fazed by the enormity of Friday's stage.
Lohse entered 0-4 with a 5.54 ERA in postseason play and was knocked around by the Braves in a start against them in May. Believing that he had been tipping his pitches then, Lohse made sure his encore in Atlanta went much more smoothly.
"We could see, without question, he's an elite pitcher and hasn't gotten the credit for the kind of season that he had," manager Mike Matheny said. "I wish we could have finished off a few more of those wins, because with 20 wins, he'd be in the conversations [for] the Cy Young. But today he showed us the kind of pitcher he is."
Lohse showed impressive poise after the one mistake he did make -- a mistake that perhaps never should have needed to come out of his hand.
After striking out four of the first five batters he faced, Lohse issued a two-out walk to Dan Uggla on a borderline 3-2 sinker.
"I thought I executed a real good pitch," Lohse said. "Sometimes you get that one. Sometimes you don't."
He battled David Ross next, and on a 1-2 pitch, delivered what he later described as "the best changeup of the night."
Ross swung through it. It didn't matter.
Home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg called time as Lohse was beginning his delivery. The pitch was called off; the at-bat continued.
"My opinion," catcher Yadier Molina said, "was that it was a late call."
Added Lohse: "I had already set my mind up that I was going to hold for a while and make him uncomfortable. It was just too late for me to stop. Unfortunately, it was a great pitch."
The next pitch was as bad as that one had been good. Ross drilled the hanging changeup into the seats for a two-run homer.
"Something like that could be hard to recover from," Matheny said, "and he just kept making pitches."
Lohse worked around a first-and-third, one-out situation in the fourth and followed with a 1-2-3 fifth before handing the game to reliever Lance Lynn with two out and one on in the sixth. Lynn preserved what was then a two-run lead.
Lohse threw 57 of his 81 pitches for strikes, struck out six and allowed six hits. And as he did in 23 of his 33 regular-season starts, he allowed no more than two earned runs.
"I said before I wasn't going to put too much pressure on myself, other than to do what I can do," he said. "That's what I did. I went out, tried to get ahead of guys, executed the game plan as best I could, except for that one pitch. I gave it everything I had."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.