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Cardinals short hops
10/14/2004 9:22 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Since Tony La Russa took over as Cardinals manager in 1996, St. Louis has gone to the National League Championship Series four times. The first three times they lost. By virtue of Thursday night's 6-4 victory over the Astros in Game 2, the Cards are in uncharted territory.

It's the first time in this era that they've won the first two games, giving them a real shot at going to the World Series for the first time since 1987. The next three games are in Houston, beginning on Saturday afternoon.

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In 1996, the Redbirds split the first two games and went up 3-1 before succumbing to the Braves in seven games. In 2000 and 2002, they lost the first two games to the Mets and Giants, respectively, and lost both times in five games.

Vitals check
A look at key statistics through Game 2 of the NLCS.

Team stats

Digits Trend The Deal
ERA 5.50 Starters fine against Dodgers and Astros, but look out for Yankees
BA .318 Rain didn't stop the ball from traveling to all decks of Busch Stadium
Runs 10 Make that 38 runs in six postseason games, including Jose Lima's shutout
Errors 0 Don't expect to get extra outs from the Cards' solid defense

Who's hot?

Player Digits Trend The Deal
Larry Walker .444 (4-for-9, 2B, 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 4 R) Brushes off two early whiffs with RISP and hits fifth-inning two-run bolt
Albert Pujols .714 (5-for-7, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R) What can you say? Has almost single-handedly torn the Astros and Dodgers apart

Who's not?

Player Digits Trend The Deal
Matt Morris 1-0, 5.40 ERA Like Woody on Wednesday, hit hard, but Cards hit Astros harder
Kiko Calero 3.00 ERA Couldn't hold 4-3 lead, but bullpen hasn't been able to hold much in first two games

Behind the numbers
The Cards No. 2-4 spots in the lineup -- Walker, Pujols and Scott Rolen -- went 6-for-12 in Game 2 with four homers, six RBIs and five runs scored.

Frozen moment
The Astros looked like they were out of the fifth when the lefty-swinging Tony Womack grounded to third with one out and Marlon Anderson on first. It was an obvious double-play chance, but third baseman Morgan Ensberg had to double pump as he waited for Jeff Kent to get over to the base for the force at second. Too late to relay to first and too late for the Astros. Walker and Rolen followed with two-run homers to erase Houston's 3-0 lead.

Slick move
Unlike Wednesday night, La Russa adeptly used his bullpen, which barely hung on for the win. Steve Kline (two batters, two hits) and Calero weren't effective, but Julian Tavarez pitched a perfect eighth and Jason Isringhausen worked a scary ninth (two walks) to earn his second consecutive save.

Hard to believe since they've won the World Series nine times, but the Cards had never hit back-to-back homers in a postseason game until Pujols and Rolen did it in the eighth inning on Thursday night.

Losing after taking a 2-0 lead
No team since the Dodgers in 1985 has blown a 2-0 lead and lost the NLCS, and that year Los Angeles was ousted by the Cardinals in the first NLCS played in the best-of-seven format. The Cards won the last four games. Since the NLCS was instituted in 1969, only two teams have dropped the series after taking a 2-0 lead. The other was the 1984 Cubs, who lost the last three games of a five-game series to the Padres.

Last word
"You have to get four. We opened at home, you earn that advantage, so it's nice to get the two. We were ready for anything. If we lost two, we were going to get four of the next five. But we've taken care of the home-field advantage. I mean, there's nobody whooping it up in [our] dugout or [our] clubhouse. We're going into a tough place to play against a very good team." -- La Russa

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

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