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Cards earn trip to World Series10/21/2004 10:52 PM ET
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The overshadowed superstars in the overshadowed series seized their one guaranteed night in the spotlight. Now they'll get to play on the biggest stage in baseball.
Albert Pujols gave the Cardinals and their crowd a pulse with a game-tying double, and Scott Rolen gave them their biggest win in 17 years with a two-run homer on the next pitch. And that was all after Jim Edmonds' spectacular catch kept the game close enough for the hitting heroics to matter.
St. Louis beat Houston, 5-2, to win the National League Championship Series in seven games, coming back from a 3-2 series deficit. The Cardinals will face the Red Sox on Saturday night in Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park.
It's the 16th trip to the World Series for the Cardinals, who have a National League-best nine world championships -- but it's their first Fall Classic appearance since 1987 and their first under manager Tony La Russa. St. Louis and Boston met in the World Series in 1946 and 1967, with the Redbirds prevailing in seven games both times.
"It's amazing," said Pujols, the series MVP. "This is what you dream about, you know? ... Going to the World Series."
Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds all enjoyed exceptional series, but all three played second-fiddle nationally to the coming-out party of the Astros' Carlos Beltran. Meanwhile, with Boston and New York battling for the American League pennant, Game 7 was only the second game in the NLCS to take place in prime time without the ALCS opposite it on television.
Given only a small sliver of a moment to steal the headlines, the Redbirds' troika of regular-season MVP candidates did just that.
"We've been riding Scotty, Albert and Jimmy all year," said closer Jason Isringhausen, "and we did it again."
Roger Clemens kept the potent St. Louis offense at bay for five innings, allowing only a single tally on a suicide squeeze play in the third. The crowd had gone quiet, and the Rocket appeared to be on course for another World Series appearance. But the future Hall of Famer got into trouble in the sixth as the Redbirds put together a three-run rally.
Roger Cedeno led it off with a pinch-hit single in place of winning pitcher Jeff Suppan, who took the mound for another clincher. Edgar Renteria sacrificed Cedeno over to second, and Larry Walker's groundout sent the speedster to third.
On a 1-2 count, one out away from getting out of the inning, Clemens elected to challenge Pujols. The MVP candidate made him regret it with a laser-beam double down the left-field line. A team that had been desperate for any sort of jump-start had just that, thanks to its best hitter.
"I tell you what, this at-bat right here, the last at-bat against Clemens is one of the best. I think I'm going to keep dreaming about it for the next couple of weeks," Pujols said. "At that time, I didn't want to try to do too much, just see a good pitch to hit. He didn't make a bad pitch. That pitch was up. Just thank the lord my hands came through."
And the Redbirds weren't done against the Rocket. Rolen ripped Clemens' next pitch in almost exactly the same direction, but a little higher and further, and the sellout crowd of 52,140 boomed so loud that Busch Stadium shook with excitement.
"I wasn't thinking home run when I went to the plate," Rolen said. "If I think about a home run, I'm going to get myself in trouble. I was thinking about competition, you know, to tell you the truth. I was thinking about Roger Clemens on the mound, and he might beat me, but I was thinking that I'm going to go head-to-head here."
The rally made a winner of Suppan, who limped into the postseason in something of a slump, but has enjoyed a splendid October. The right-hander also picked up the win in Game 4 of the NL Division Series, when the Cards closed out Los Angeles and advanced to the NLCS.
A leadoff home run by Craig Biggio was the only earned run of the game against Suppan, whose stuff was sharp throughout. He struck out six in six innings, and the only other run tallied against him came on a bizarre play where Edmonds was charged with the Cardinals' first error of the postseason.
"Whoever you go against, you've really got to go against their hitters," Suppan said. "You've got to take them, attack them. Especially in this game, I was just really trying to stay out of the big inning and battle, give everything I have."
He got a huge boost from Edmonds in the second. With two on and one out, Brad Ausmus ripped a pitch into the gap in right-center, and Edmonds -- playing shallow as usual -- made a run at it. He extended his body fully, lunged for the ball and made a spectacular diving catch, saving two runs as Suppan escaped the inning without damage.
"If you think the play Jim Edmonds made didn't turn the game around," said Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, "then you weren't paying attention."
Kiko Calero, Julian Tavarez and Jason Isringhausen eached pitched a shutout inning to close out the game, while Larry Walker added an insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth. St. Louis is 6-0 at home this postseason.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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