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Rolen snaps playoff skid10/14/2004 7:17 AM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Scott Rolen was hearing it from everyone. Even his older brother.
"My brother told me after the last game at LA, 'You could at least get some guys on the bench some water,'" Rolen said.
It was easier for him to joke about it late Wednesday night, as he dressed at his locker inside Busch Stadium. The drought was over. Rolen -- so unfittingly mired in an 0-for-14 start to a postseason that followed a glorious summer -- had an RBI single in the fifth inning that was crucial during the Cardinals' 10-7 comeback victory over the Astros in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
The record will show that Rolen was 1-for-4, but there was a lot to love about the game for his legions of fans. Rolen also drew a key walk off reliever Chad Harville in the sixth, loading the bases. When Jim Edmonds proceeded to rip the bases-clearing double that made it 7-4, it was Rolen who was flying around third base and racing to beat the throw with a hook slide that belied his nagging calf.
"The most important number is one win," Rolen said. "I don't know who got hits and who didn't. Series totals as individuals, it doesn't matter in here."
Then in his typical dry humor, Rolen added: "I was 0-for-14 before that, though, so I guess it's easier for me to say that."
Rolen was the NL's top vote-getter for the 2004 All-Star Game, and he was well on his way to strong MVP consideration when his struggles began in September. Rolen missed 16 games down the stretch from Sept. 11-27 due to a bruised shin and strained calf, but he returned to the lineup in the last Houston series and homered off Roger Clemens. It was obvious in the NLDS against Los Angeles that Rolen was still struggling with his calf injury, and he went 0-for-12 and will tell you that there was zero consolation in the six walks he drew off Dodgers pitchers.
When asked after Game 1 of the NLCS how it felt to break the ice, he first said: "Somebody said I was 0-for-14 before that [hit]. I thought I was 0-for-2. I didn't know we had to go back to the first series."
He repeatedly switched back and forth during the postgame interview between Serious Scott and Slapstick Scott.
"I punched out late," he said, referring to an eighth-inning strikeout. "It could be the well dried up on me."
Rolen's postseason futility had continued in the first inning when, as starter Brandon Backe was struggling early, he grounded out to short and seemed to run gingerly to first. In the bottom of the fourth, Rolen led off and worked the count full against Backe. The crowd rose in raucous support, and he took a called third strike, with apparent disregard for the call. At that point, Rolen was 0-for-14 in the playoffs.
"I've been taking good BP's [batting practice] all the way through [the postseason]," he said. "I felt like I was hitting some line drives during the Division Series. It's a little mental battle to where you know you're taking good swings, but at some point you want some satisfaction."
Then he finally found it.
So did a sellout crowd of 52,323.
Batting for the second of three consecutive innings against three different pitchers, Rolen stepped in against Chad Qualls and drilled a 1-1 pitch to left to bring home Roger Cedeno and Larry Walker to make it 4-4. It was a key hit, because the Astros appeared to have brought their bats straight from their Game 5 domination of the Braves on Monday night in Atlanta to close out the NLDS.
"I needed a hit like ..." Rolen said. When asked if he was going to finish the sentence, he declined and explained that there was mixed company around him. "You try to say positive, and in the back of your mind you know it'll fall at some point," he said.
Walker was especially delighted to see that hit fall.
"That was good," he said. "It came after they basically pitched around Albert (Pujols), too. Scott has to be sitting here going, 'Here we go, they're pitching around somebody to get to me. I'm hitless.' He hit the ball hard. I think he had some good cuts tonight. He had a baseline ball in that sixth inning, laid off some tough pitches. I don't think it's as bad as everybody thinks. He's had a couple ugly swings. Some at bats have been great."
Rolen's sixth-inning at-bat was one example. Once again, he had to wait for a reliever to come in and warm up, this time Chad Harville. On 2-and-1, Harville threw him a 95-mph heater just out of the strike zone and Rolen somehow was able to check his swing. Rolen then walked the bags full on the next pitch, and Edmonds proceeded to wallop the liner to right that made it a quick 7-4.
When told that he looked good running the bases, Rolen smiled and said:
Asked to elaborate on how he had turned on the afterburner, he said:
"I'm ready to score -- you get some adrenaline. You know it's gonna hurt more to stop, anyway. You just hope he (third-base coach Jose Oquendo) keeps waving you."
The Cardinals held off an Astros rally, and one victory was in the books. One hit for Rolen was there as well.
For the 1,000th time this past week, Rolen was asked how his calf feels.
"It's wonderful," he said with a straight face. "I can hardly stand it, it feels so good."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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