Cardinals unfazed by playing with backs to wall
Redbirds enter Game 7 having won six straight win-or-go-home contests
SAN FRANCISCO -- Carlos Beltran was on the Mets when St. Louis beat New York in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. Two years before that, Beltran was with the Astros when the Cardinals beat them in Game 7 of the '04 NLCS.
Now 35 years old with aching knees, Beltran is wearing Cardinal red himself, hoping for another dose of that St. Louis magic and his first trip to the World Series. It comes down to Game 7 on Monday at 7 p.m. CT on FOX.
"I will say that tomorrow is a must-win game for everybody," Beltran said. "I think it is going to be a battle."
It is a battle the Cards have fought before:
This is the ninth NLCS to go to a decisive Game 7 since the format expanded to seven games in 1985, and five of those have included the Redbirds. They won three of the previous four, beating the Mets in '06, the Astros in '04 and the Giants in 1987.
The Cardinals' only NLCS Game 7 loss came in 1996, when the Braves scored six runs off Donovan Osborne in the first inning and ran away with a 15-0 victory.
LCS Game 7s
Overall, it is the 15th League Championship Series to get to a decisive Game 7 since '85, and the road team has won only four. One was the Cards, in '06 over the Mets.
The Redbirds have now lost two straight games this series with a chance to advance, but they have won six straight "win or go home" games -- Games 4 and 5 of the 2011 NL Division Series against the Phillies, Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Rangers, the 2012 Wild Card game against the Braves and Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against the Nationals.
The two biggest of those games, of course, came in last year's World Series. David Freese became a household name in Game 6 with his game-tying triple and walk-off home run, and he chipped in two more RBIs in the first inning of Game 7, a 6-2 Cardinals win that sent manager Tony La Russa into the sunset as a champion.
So, what does it all mean?
"Absolutely nothing," Freese said Sunday, after the Giants led from the first inning through the ninth and once again staved off elimination.
The Giants, too, have done this before, as Freese and the Cards know. San Francisco entered the NLCS fresh off becoming the first NL team since the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995 to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five Division Series, beating the Reds in three straight road games to advance to the NLCS.
Now the Giants are a Game 7 win away from once again winning three elimination games in a row.
"I think both of these teams don't take the easiest road," Freese said. "Having this opportunity, we're blessed for that, but it's going to be a heavyweight bout [on Monday]. It's going to be fun."
The Cardinals got an outstanding start in their 2006 NLCS clincher from free-agent-to-be Jeff Suppan and a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning from catcher Yadier Molina.
On Monday, another free-agent-to-be will be on the mound for St. Louis, Kyle Lohse. Molina is again expected to be behind the plate.
Cardinals in NLCS Game 7s
"I don't know what it is, but we play good in those games," Molina said. "Hopefully, tomorrow is not an exception. We're going to come ready to go and win the game. Game 7 is always exciting."
The Cards' clubhouse remained closed for a few extra minutes after Sunday's loss, but there were no fiery clubhouse speeches. The Redbirds know, said once veteran player, what is at stake, and nobody needed to say it out loud.
"I think the experience does matter, knowing what it means to play do-or-die games," said longtime Cardinal Skip Schumaker. "But [the Giants] have been there before, too, so I think it's going to be a battle. I don't think it's an advantage for one team or another, because most of these players have World Series experience and big-game experience."
That's because the Giants and Cardinals are the past two World Series champions.
"I've always said if I was a [general manager], I would get guys with postseason experience, because you want to put a price on that," Schumaker said.
Said Freese: "Individually, you have to take a step back and understand what you're about to get into. You have to attack the game, especially in this scenario. Game 7 -- each team wants to come out and score early."
Lohse will do his part to ensure that team is not the Giants. Beltran is one of 25 players on the Cards' active roster who is hoping their starting pitcher succeeds.
"We have confidence with that guy on the mound," Beltran said. "We know we can win this."