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Walker stars in his first NLCS game
10/14/2004 6:40 AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Wouldn't you know it. In Larry Walker's first National League Championship Series game of his 16-year career, he came up in the eighth inning with a chance to become the first player in postseason history to hit for the cycle.

Walker, who played for Montreal (1989-1994) and Colorado until Aug. 9, when he was traded to the Cardinals, had already hit a single, double and triple during his team's 10-7, Game 1 victory over the Astros at Busch Stadium. All he needed was the home run, and he went up to the plate against Houston reliever Dan Wheeler hacking. He didn't get it.

"I knew what was at stake, and I figured I'd give it a shot," said Walker, who was 3-for-5 with an RBI in the game. "If it was a closer game, I might not have done it. I think we were up by five or six at the time [actually four]. I wasn't trying to hit a line drive. I was trying to hit it out of the ballpark. You see the result when I try to hit a home run. I struck out."

Walker played in 1,888 regular-season games and eight more in the Division Series before getting his first chance to battle for the NL pennant. He is 37 years old, and his pink pate is bald on top and shaved clean on the sides. He is the No. 2 hitter in a Cardinals lineup that is so stocked, it is reminiscent of his Expos' days, when the 1994 strike ended that team's chance of going to the playoffs.

Walker now sets the table for Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, who usually hit in succession behind him. It is a feast of uncommon abundance.

"With the lineup we have, you know we're going to put balls in play, hit some balls hard, score some runs," Walker said.

Trailing, 2-0, in the first inning courtesy of Carlos Beltran's two-run homer, Walker didn't waste any time hitting a ball hard and in play.

He lined a shot to right field that confused Lance Berkman, who started in, seemed to have it in range, then watched the ball whiz by his glove for a triple. Three pitches later, Pujols smacked his third homer of the postseason to tie the score, 2-2.

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"It could have been knuckling some, I'm not sure," Walker said about his first NLCS hit. "Perhaps [it was] in the lights. I haven't talked to Lance or heard anything about what happened there. I think it did knuckle quite a bit and looked like it took off to the left."

Berkman said that, indeed, he had lost the ball in the lights.

"It was there one minute, and then it was gone the next," he said.

Sort of like Houston's 4-2 lead in the fifth inning. The lefty-swinging Walker doubled to the opposite field to knock in the first run of the inning, and then scored the tying run on Rolen's single, the third baseman's first and only base hit so far this postseason.

Walker added an infield single in the Cardinals' six-run, sixth-inning rally that secured for them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues on Thursday night.

He has made the most of the playoffs this season, going 5-for-15 with two home runs and three RBIs during the Cards' four-game first-round victory over the Dodgers. Both homers came in the first game of the NLDS at home in front of the raging sea of red.

Make that 8-for-20 (.400) this postseason and counting, with perhaps his first World Series ahead.

"Well, we're realistic. We know anything can happen," he said. "I'm superstitious, but realistically we know how good the Houston Astros are. They could come back and beat up on us quite easily. So we're not counting our eggs before they hatch here, by any means."

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

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