ST. LOUIS -- Why is it that the biggest home runs at Busch Stadium tend to be the little ones?
There was Ozzie Smith's famous "Go crazy, folks!" clout that propelled the Cardinals into the 1985 World Series. Then there was "62," Mark McGwire's line drive in 1998 that barely cleared the fence and broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record.
True, Jim Edmonds' 12th-inning blow in Game 6 of this National League Championship Series was a big home run in every sense. It was one of his patented skyscrapers that towered deep into the night and forced Thursday's win-or-go-home Game 7.
But by the time Game 7 was over, Scott Rolen proved again that as long as the baseball clears the yellow line, it counts.
"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, to tell you the truth. I was thinking about Roger Clemens on the mound. He might beat me, but I was thinking that I'm going to go head to head here."
He went head to head, alright. Rolen's two-run home run capped a three-run Cardinals' rally against Clemens and propelled the Cardinals to a 5-2 win and their first World Series appearance since 1987.
It was a special moment, and the baseball settled in a special location.
It cleared the fence just a few feet from a small circle imprinted with 'No. 62', marking the spot where McGwire made history. McGwire's 62nd was a first-pitch, 341-foot homer off soft-tossing Cubs right-hander Steve Trachsel. Rolen's was a first-pitch, 343-footer off Clemens,a not-so-soft-tossing Astros right-hander.
"I don't think our home run totals are on the same path, however," Rolen joked.
"The McGwire moment was a great time," said Cards right-hander Matt Morris, who was there when McGwire hit his historic homer on Sept. 8, 1998. "It was the best ride that I've ever been on and not really been a part of. But this is a team thing. To pull it out that way is unbelievable."
And unbelievably fitting. One pitch before Rolen's long ball put the Cardinals ahead for good, Albert Pujols tied the game with an RBI double.
"Who else could it be?" Morris asked. "Those are the guys who have come through all year."
When the ball left Rolen's bat, it was going to put the Cardinals in front, whether it cleared the fence or not. St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty was glad it did the former.
"The way the ball was dying today, I was just hoping it would make it to the fence and go over," Jocketty said. "When he hit that, I knew we would win it. This team had it in them. They knew they were going to the World Series."
Said Tony Womack, of breaking through against Clemens: "Anytime you get runs off that guy, you should be thankful. We finally got to him."
Scott Rolen / 3B
Weight: 240 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Next stop, Boston. This time, Rolen is heading to the next round riding a hot streak. After returning from a calf injury, Rolen went 0-for-12 in the Division Series against the Dodgers.
But he turned it on in time for the NLCS, finishing with a .320 average (8-for-25), two home runs, four RBIs and five runs scored.
Now, he is headed to the World Series for the first time in his career.
"When you go back to when we were little kids, I mean, this is what we did in the backyard," Rolen said. "We threw the ball up, and you were your favorite team and playing your rival, and you're in the World Series in Game 7. When you get an opportunity to go to the World Series, like we have right now, you don't take it for granted. You look at it and you realize how fortunate you are as a player and as a human being and as a team and a father and a husband, and everything else.
"It's just a day that you're going to remember for the rest of your life. Our work is not done. We want to go to Boston and come back here and hopefully win a World Series."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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