NLCS turning into a free-for-all
Offenses turn it up a notch as series shifts to St. Louis
NEW YORK -- On Saturday, the National League Championship Series shifts scenes. On Friday, it shifted gears.The Cardinals' tenacious 9-6 win over the Mets in Game 2 at Shea Stadium officially dropped the gauntlet on what hence will be a free-for-all crapshoot. Although St. Louis landed the final, decisive blows to square the NLCS at a game apiece, both teams fired on all cylinders. Jose Reyes (three hits) and Carlos Delgado (two home runs) were lively for the Mets, and Albert Pujols (three runs), Jim Edmonds (two-run homer) and super-sub Scott Spiezio (three RBIs) delivered for the Cards. No time for the Cardinals to bask in a victory in which they erased deficits of 3-0 and 6-4, and in which they did not own a lead until So Taguchi snapped a 6-6 tie with a leadoff homer off Billy Wagner in the ninth. "Oh, this is going to be a fun one to reflect on," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said on his way to Missouri. "It's a shame we don't have that day off to really enjoy it. [We're] already thinking about [Saturday].'" Due to Friday's makeup of Wednesday's rainout, tomorrow comes fast: The teams are back at it on Saturday at 8:05 p.m. ET in Game 3 at new Busch Stadium. The Redbirds' Jeff Suppan will face the Mets' Steve Trachsel, the Carlos Delgado of the mound when it comes to deferred postseason debuts. Just as Delgado had to wait a Major League-long 1,711 games for his first playoff moment, Trachsel had made more starts (380) than any other active pitcher before doing so in the playoffs, in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Dodgers. The Cardinals will now embrace a home-field advantage very comparable to the one responsible for the Mets' blazing postseason liftoff. The Mets are 3-1 in October games at Shea Stadium, where their regular-season record of 50-31 was the best in the NL.
But the Cards were only a step behind in new Busch Stadium -- the first ballpark, incidentally, to host postseason baseball at the end of its maiden season since Atlanta's Turner Field, in 1997. St. Louis went 49-31 at home (the missing game being a rainout against the Giants which did not have to be made up).
Suppan personifies that good down-home feeling. He not only went 7-2 at Busch (compared to 5-5 away from home) but had an ERA more than two runs lower than on the road (3.18 to 5.36).Removing Scott Rolen from his Friday lineup had clearly pained La Russa, who continues to keep a watchful eye on his regular third baseman, looking for any sign that he might be ready to cut loose from his 1-for-14 postseason. "It's not an enjoyable decision, with one of our core guys," La Russa said. "There's something preventing him from being right. But it's just one game at a time." La Russa's difficult choice, of course, was reinforced by Spiezio's typically clutch performance in Game 2. His two-run triple tied the game in the seventh and, for punctuation, he added a run-scoring double to further the winning three-run rally in the ninth. Trachsel may not be the right guy to mend Rolen's confidence -- however much that compounds his weak left shoulder. Rolen is a soft 10-for-41 lifetime against the right-hander, with seven RBIs but also 10 strikeouts. Rolen did enter Friday night's game defensively in the bottom of the ninth, so his return to the starting lineup for Game 3 is a possibility. The comeback win, on a night when ace Chris Carpenter simply lacked his "A" game, may not have given the Cardinals an outright advantage in the series. But it did get them back into the series. "Everyone got the big hits to give us an opportunity to win and get us back to St. Louis 1-1," said Carpenter, whose spotless career postseason record remained at 4-0 thanks to the comeback. "I just didn't have very good stuff. "I battled all night long, as long as I could. Now I hope to get another opportunity." That opportunity would come in Game 6, which would be back in Shea Stadium on Wednesday. There will be plenty of Busch bedlam before we get to that point.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.