10/18/2004 11:57 PM ET
Cards confident heading home
St. Louis winners in last four playoff games at Busch
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
|Matt Morris takes the hill for the Cardinals in a must-win Game 6 at Busch Stadium. (James A. Finley/AP)
HOUSTON -- In the shocking aftermath of Jeff Kent's three-run, ninth-inning homer that gave the Houston Astros a 3-2 edge in the National League Championship Series on Monday night, there is still good news for the St. Louis Cardinals.
They're heading home. And they like their chances in red-bedecked Busch Stadium.
Adios, Minute Maid Park, where the Astros -- now one victory away from the World Series -- arrived trailing, 2-0, in the best-of-seven NLCS but rallied for three consecutive wins, including the dramatic 3-0 win in the Houston finale.
Home-field advantage has been awesome for both teams, and that's what the Redbirds are counting on.
Houston won 22 of its last 23 games in the downtown ballpark, but the Astros won't return in this series. The Cardinals have won four straight playoff games at home, two over Los Angeles in the Division Series and the pair over the Astros to kick off the NLCS.
Manager Tony La Russa's team seemed to struggle in the final weeks of the regular season, losing five of its last seven games, but with a 13-game lead, the playoffs were already assured.
"We're going home, behind 2-3, but it's always home sweet home," said Redbird reliever Julian Tavarez, who broke two fingers in a dugout outburst on Sunday. He said he'll be able to pitch in St. Louis.
"We played two games there before and won both. We come here and they take all three," he said. "But we've been hot at home and expect to play well there. We'll have an off day on Tuesday, and it'll be good to refresh our minds and have a plan for Wednesday and Thursday."
Pitcher Jeff Suppan said it's an evenly matched series between two good teams, and he said the Cardinals will have to play all-out in Wednesday night's contest.
Being at home, however, and having ace Matt Morris pitch in the crucial game are two positives.
"It's going to be a battle," said Suppan, who lost Game 3 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday. "Matt's done a great job for us -- he's been a horse, going out there and throwing tremendous this year. He's done it before, he's a great competitor and has great stuff. I'm looking foward to watching it."
Morris, an eight-year veteran who won 15 games for the Cardinals this season, declined to discuss Wednesday's big assignment after Monday's loss. He pitched five innings in Game 2 at Busch Stadium, giving up six hits and three runs in the club's 6-4 defeat.
Reliever Kiko Calero, who's struggled a bit in three appearances, giving up seven hits and three runs over 4 2/3 frames, said the NL Central champions are confident.
|Since the NLCS adopted the seven-game format in 1985, there have been three occasions when a team trailed three games to two in a series heading home for the final two games.|
|1985||LA||STL||Lost in six|
|1987||STL||SF||Won in seven|
|1997||ATL||FLA||Lost in six|
"I think we're going to do the same they did to us -- win at home," said Calero. "That's good news, going back home. They might have Roger Clemens going, but we have a good pitcher in Matt Morris."
Clemens, however, is no sure thing for the start, as Astros manager Phil Garner refused to commit to naming a starter after Game 5.
"It's going to be good," Calero added. "We need two wins to go to the World Series, and we can do it. We won the first two games there, and there's no reason we can't do it now. We have good hitters, and Morris will be ready."
Marlon Anderson, the Cardinals' top pinch-hitter who has made only one plate appearance in the series, also exuded confidence as he packed his bags for the flight home.
With a workout on Tuesday and being in the friendly confines of Busch Stadium, trailing, 3-2, doesn't seem an insurmountable obstacle.
"That's what home-field advantage is all about," said Anderson. "In the playoffs with the crowds and all -- the playoffs don't really start until someone wins a game on the road. That hasn't happened yet.
"We go home, we have our crowd and our home stadium -- we're ready to go back and take care of business," he said. "If they can win three in a row, I'm sure we can take two. We're not worried about that."
If he must face Clemens or Pete Munro or Cy Young ... hey, no matter.
"We can't worry about them," said Anderson. "We need to do what we do well and play our kind of game."
Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.