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10/19/06 3:22 AM ET

LCS is no stranger to Game 7s

Mets and Cardinals take to Shea with NL pennant on line

NEW YORK -- All things considered, the Tigers are perfectly happy to be in the World Series by virtue of a four-game sweep of the A's in the American League Championship Series.

But there is just something special about a Game 7.

Baseball fans will be treated to another of those tonight at Shea Stadium, when the Cardinals and Mets decide the National League pennant. It will be the 12th time an LCS has gone the distance since it was expanded to a best-of-seven format in 1985, evoking these kinds of images:

Sid Bream sliding under the tag; Aaron Boone going deep in the 11th and complete revenge one year later; an Orel Hershiser and Danny Cox shutout; Roger Clemens winning a big one and losing a big one; and more heartbreak at Wrigley Field.

"They are getting ready to have the experience of a lifetime if you're in professional sports," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who told his team right after the Game 6 loss on Wednesday to enjoy the coming moment. "It's an experience you'll never forget. It will be one of the most enjoyable things, especially if you do it right as far as getting ready and doing the best that you can. You'll never forget it."

"They are all very unique in their own way and exciting," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "I just want to be part of my own and get a victory and move on. But you know, when you think about the playoffs and World Series, those situations, playoffs right now, you just hope that it's something that's significant and something that you look back on, maybe 20 or 30 years from now and be really proud of. We're trying to find our own little niche and make our own little piece of history."

While awaiting more history, here is a look at previous LCS seventh games:

2004: Red Sox over Yankees, Cardinals over Astros
Perhaps no clincher ever meant more to an LCS winner than that one by Boston, because of the fabled circumstances. The long-cursed Red Sox had to climb out of a 3-0 hole, and they proceeded to complete the greatest comeback in sports history behind Johnny Damon's two homers against their rivals at Yankee Stadium -- en route to their first world championship in 86 years.

The Cardinals outlasted Houston in a series where the home team won each game, and it should be noted that Jeff Suppan -- who will start this Game 7 -- beat Clemens in the clincher at Busch Stadium. The series is remembered by many for the battle of megapowers between Houston's Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, who was named NLCS MVP. Jim Edmonds hit the dramatic walk-off homer in the 11th inning of Game 6 to make it go the distance, and then his diving catch a night later was a key play.

2003: Yankees over Red Sox, Marlins over Cubs
Boone hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the 11th off Tim Wakefield to break the hearts of Red Sox fans again, and Boston manager Grady Little ultimately lost his job after the outcry over leaving starter Pedro Martinez in too long during the ALCS finale. Typifying the emotions of the series, another memorable moment was a bench-clearing melee in Game 3 when Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer tried to take on Martinez and was tossed to the ground.

NLCS Game 7s
The Cardinals and Mets will play a decisive Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night at Shea Stadium. A look at the previous other Game 7 contests in NLCS history:
Stl. 6, S.F. 0
Cox's eight-hit shutout
L.A. 6, N.Y. 0
Hershiser's five-hit shutout
Atl. 4, Pit. 0
Smoltz's six-hit shutout
Atl. 3, Pit. 2
ATL scores three in ninth
Atl. 15, Stl. 0
Six-run first for Glavine
Fla. 9, Chi. 6
Fish win 6 and 7 on road
Stl. 5, Hou. 2
Suppan tops Clemens
*Home team in bold

Hardly anyone seems to remember what happened in Game 7 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, because of the way the Cubs squandered their chance at clinching a pennant in Game 6. Returning to Chicago with aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood lined up, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning but then allowed eight runs. Forever remembered is the Luis Castillo foul to left that Moises Alou was unable to catch while apparently hindered by a fan trying to catch it as well. Miguel Cabrera knocked in four runs in the finale.

1996: Braves 15, Cardinals 0
St. Louis had a 3-1 series lead with a chance to clinch at home against Atlanta in that NLCS, but John Smoltz skunked them in a 14-0 rout and then the series headed to Georgia. Greg Maddux stopped St. Louis in Game 6, and then the Braves somehow managed to top that Game 5 score. It was 15-0 behind the same Tom Glavine who has faced the Redbirds as a Met during this 2006 NLCS, and a six-run first inning back then made it clear that it would be a devastating finale for St. Louis.

1992: Braves over Pirates
"Sid slid." Those are two words that are forever part of Atlanta baseball lexicon, because the slow-footed Bream slid safely under the tag of Pirates catcher Mike Lavalliere on Francisco Cabrera's pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth. The Braves had trailed, 2-0, entering the inning against tough Pirates starter Doug Drabek, but that completed a rally viewed as the defining moment by most people who still do the Tomahawk Chop.

1991: Braves over Pirates
A year before Sid slid, Smoltz threw a six-hit shutout at a frustrated lineup that included Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke. Pirates starter John Smiley never made it past the first inning, allowing three runs. Atlanta, which had just won its first of many consecutive division titles, had to win the last two games in Pittsburgh.

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1988: Dodgers over Mets
Two years removed from its most recent world championship, New York forced a seventh game behind a fabulous David Cone complete game. In Game 7 of that NLCS, it was Hershiser's turn. The "Bulldog" went nine scoreless, and interestingly enough, Kirk Gibson had the game-winning RBI. Of course, that RBI was only the first in a 6-0 victory. Everyone remembers what his game-winning RBI looked like in the next game he would play at the World Series against Oakland.

1987: Cardinals over Giants
St. Louis made its third World Series appearance of the decade by virtue of polar opposites in pitching. Danny Cox hurled a 6-0 shutout at Busch, and the Giants went through seven pitchers as starter Atlee Hammaker was raked early by Willie McGee & Co.

1986: Red Sox over Angels
The California Angels had a 3-1 ALCS lead on Boston, and most people recall what happened in Game 5, when the Angels were one out away from a World Series before Dave Henderson's homer off reliever Donnie Moore. But yes, there was a Game 7, and it was won convincingly by the home team back at Fenway Park. A young fireballer named Clemens took that decision with seven shutout innings. Considering what would happen to the Red Sox in coming days against the Mets, one almost wonders if it would have been easier as a Boston fan had Moore just gotten the last out.

1985: Royals over Blue Jays
It was the year that Kansas City celebrated its only World Series title, and the Royals had to do it the hard way back then. Toronto had taken a 3-1 series lead, but Danny Jackson shut out the Blue Jays in Game 5 and George Brett's homer in Game 6 helped the Royals tie the series and force a seventh game. Toronto ace Dave Stieb started but struggled, and the big hit was a bases-loaded triple by Jim Sundberg in the sixth to give Kansas City a 5-1 lead. The Royals won, 6-2, and the interesting part is that a kid named Bret Saberhagen pitched only three innings in that Game 7 start. He would be World Series MVP soon.

Baseball fans probably got a little spoiled by the end of the 2004 season, when there had been four consecutive LCS Game 7s. Last year, the White Sox beat the Angels in five and the Astros eliminated the Cardinals in six. Now it is time to appreciate the certainty of fate, knowing one team plays Detroit and one team goes home. Like the voice said in the movie "Field of Dreams:"

Go the distance.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.