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Renteria's clutch bat lifts Cardinals
10/07/2004 10:25 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Edgar Renteria showed why the Cardinals consider him their captain, starting two rallies and driving in the go-ahead run as St. Louis beat the Dodgers, 8-3, at Busch Stadium on Thursday night.

The Cards moved ahead two games to none in the best-of-five National League Division Series, and can advance to the League Championship Series with a win at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. Since the inception of the current playoff format, 16 of the 20 teams to take 2-0 leads have gone on to win the series. No NL team has blown a 2-0 Division Series lead since the extra round was added to the playoffs in 1995.

Renteria, continuing to emerge from a late-season slide, provided what fans and teammates have come to expect from him -- the game's big hit. After Dodgers starter Jeff Weaver retired Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds with two men on in the fifth, Renteria placed a single in the perfect spot in right-center, scoring Larry Walker from second to break a tie.

"He hung a breaking ball," said Renteria, who is 4-for-6 with three walks, four runs and three RBIs in the series. "I stayed inside and hit the ball to the middle. I never tried to pull that ball. That's my job right now."

Mike Matheny continued his own playoff run with a pair of two-run singles that gave the Cards some cushion. Matheny, who homered in Game 1, has an 11-game playoff hitting streak dating back to the 2001 Division Series (15-for-39, .385). His four RBIs set a Cardinals Division Series record.

Matheny's first hit came on a tough pitch from Weaver. He calmly stayed with it and poked a soft single that chased the Los Angeles right-hander.

"He makes a nasty pitch most of the time," Matheny said. "He's a good pitcher. He's hard to pick up. His ball is running all over the joint. I'm just trying to put a good, solid at-bat together."

All told, the Cards drove in seven runs with two out, and 14 of their 16 runs in the series have scored after the second out. They amassed seven two-out base hits, plus two walks and a hit batter.

"We've been doing that all year, as far as scoring in key situations," said Reggie Sanders, who had three hits, including a pivotal bunt single. "This ballclub is strong in our convictions as far as what we're trying to do [with our] approach. We try not to alter from that."

St. Louis improved to 13-3 all-time in Division Series play, including 8-1 at Busch Stadium. A win on Saturday, when Matt Morris takes the mound against Jose Lima, would make it four Division Series sweeps in five tries for St. Louis since the format was introduced.

Renteria, whose overall playoff numbers don't quite correspond with his reputation as a great clutch hitter, has RBI hits in each game of this series. Still, he's the man who delivered the World Series-winning hit for Florida in the 11th inning of Game 7 in the 1997 World Series, and his list of critical hits for the Cards is a lengthy one.

On Thursday, St. Louis scored in three innings, and Renteria was in on every rally. His bloop double started the three-run, second-inning outburst that put the home team ahead. His RBI single broke a tie. And his seventh-inning single started things in motion for Matheny's second two-run hit.

Facts machine
In the history of five-game playoff series, teams with a 2-0 lead have gone on to win 34 of 42 series and have completed sweeps in 26 of those matchups. Since Division Series play started in 1995, 16 of 20 teams to grab 2-0 leads went on to win.

"He's a rock out there for us," said Matheny. "He's there day in and day out offensively and defensively. He's always put together good at-bats, and there may not be more of a clutch player in all of baseball. He's just somebody that we all rally around."

Jason Marquis simply wasn't right in his first career playoff start, walking four and needing 89 pitches to record 10 outs. But a bullpen that was a strength all year came through yet again. Cal Eldred worked around two walks of his own to get out of a jam in the fourth, then handed the ball over to Danny Haren.

The second-year pitcher, making his first postseason appearance, pitched like he'd been handling October tension for years. He breezed through two shutout innings, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out two for the win. Haren made a scintillating entrance, whiffing MVP candidate Adrian Beltre on a nasty split-finger fastball to open the fifth, and went from there.

"We just try to keep our team in the game," Haren said. "I come in the game and it's 3-3, and I'm not trying to nibble. I don't want to walk guys. I'm just going out there and trying to throw strikes. I'm just trying to keep the ball down. My adrenaline was going pretty good."

Ray King sliced, diced and made julienne fries out of the heart of the Dodgers order for the second straight game, retiring Steve Finley, Beltre and Shawn Green on grounders in the seventh. Julian Tavarez twirled 1 2/3 innings, and Steve Kline came in for the final out. Cardinals relievers have allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings in the series.

"That's the way it's been all year," said Haren, who was called up from Triple-A Memphis for good on Aug. 31. "The bullpen just comes in there and shuts people down. I haven't been a part of it for that long, only a month or two this year, but the whole year it's been like that."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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