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10/20/05 2:17 AM ET

McLane, Astros vindicated in St. Louis

Unlike '04, Houston wins Game 6 of NLCS, clinches series

HOUSTON -- On Monday night in Houston, when the baseball world almost collapsed around him, Drayton McLane remained confident that his Astros would come back and defeat the Cardinals before this National League Championship Series was over and win their first pennant.

On Wednesday night in Game 6, his patience was rewarded. The Astros bounced back from one of the most devastating defeats in postseason history to dissect the Cardinals, 5-1, in the final game at the current Busch Stadium. Next year, the new ballpark will open next door, and the Astros, who open the World Series on Saturday night in Chicago, will come to town as at least defending NL champions.

"We have to do everything the hard way," said McLane, the team's chairman and chief executive, during the postgame clubhouse celebration, his hat dripping from bubbly. "The other day, we were within one strike of doing it and we didn't. But we came back the very next game. That tells you all you need to know about the character of this team."

Unlike last postseason, the Astros didn't squander a 3-2 lead in the NLCS to the Cardinals. They won twice at Busch Stadium in this series, when they didn't win once in four games last October.

The difference was Roy Oswalt, who started only one of the seven games last year and didn't earn a decision in his Game 4 start, a Houston victory, at Minute Maid Park. This year, Oswalt won both of the Astros' road victories, allowing two runs on eight hits with four walks and 12 strikeouts in 14 innings.

It took away the sting of the three-run, ninth-inning homer Albert Pujols hit off Brad Lidge on Monday in Game 5 to keep the Cardinals alive with a stunning 5-4 win.

For McLane, the victory came near the end of his 13th season at the helm of a franchise that was founded in 1960, began play in 1962, and finally survived to win the pennant at the end of its 44th season.

"It represents a big, huge investment, but the excitement has made it all worthwhile," McLane said. "And for the franchise, it was a long haul to get here. But it isn't supposed to be easy. And in Texas, we don't do anything easy. But it makes it better when you succeed despite that. It really does.

"In years past, we didn't get there. On Monday night, we didn't get there. Last year, we were here in the same game [a 6-4, 12-inning, Game 6 loss]. If we had won that game, we would have been on our way. Now, we finally are on our way."

This was the fourth time in franchise history the Astros had ascended to the League Championship Series. And during McLane's era, Houston has won the NL Central four times, won back-to-back Wild Card berths, and had been to the Division Series five times before finally defeating Atlanta in 2004.

Last year's defeat to the Cardinals ushered in a slew of offseason changes. General manager Jerry Hunsicker resigned and was replaced by Tim Purpura. Jeff Kent left as a free agent and signed with the Dodgers. After protracted negotiations that went into January, Carlos Beltran signed as a free agent with the Mets.

McLane was chastised for allowing a good portion of the offense to leave, but his decisions were vindicated on Wednesday night.

"A lot of people predicted our doom, but we just took off," he said. "It took a little time. We had that 15-30 start. Things didn't look good. But we had some young players who had to develop. Jason Lane came into his own. Jason had that huge homer [in the fourth inning] tonight. Willie Taveras never played Triple-A ball. He jumped from Double-A and look what he accomplished this year. You just look at others who got, better and better and better.

"So far, it's been a great year for us. And the year isn't nearly over."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.