10/09/09 8:48 PM ET
Cards have ability to shake off walk-off
Club can point to 2004 NLCS for precedent, motivation
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
It was an election year, of course, and the year in which the Olympics returned to their native home. But more importantly -- for concerned Missourians, at least -- it was also the year in which the Cardinals found a way to overcome a postseason walk-off hit -- one that put them on the brink of elimination -- and advance to the next round.
So to answer everyone's first question, yes, it has happened here in the Gateway City before. Now, an '09 Cardinals team that has two holdovers -- Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina -- from that '04 National League championship club will have to rally from a similar deficit if it doesn't want its next game to be in Grapefruit League play.
"Obviously our backs are against the wall," said Ryan Ludwick. "The positive that you take out of it is that we have won three games in a row numerous times this year. We know we can do it."
That '04 Cardinals team rebounded from Jeff Kent's walk-off home run in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against the Astros to take the two must-win games that followed.
Mark Loretta's walk-off single in Thursday's 3-2 Game 2 loss has the Dodgers sitting nicely with a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five Division Series. There's no skirting around what that means for the Cardinals. St. Louis has to win each of its next three games, beginning with Game 3 at Busch Stadium on Saturday, to avoid going home.
"I've been in a ton of these scenarios where you have one game to win or you go home and you put all of your efforts into winning that game," said John Smoltz, a 14-year postseason veteran. "There's only one thing you can do and that's think about that game and be as positive as you can and move forward."
|1995 ALDS: Jim Leyritz (NYY) had walk-off hit in Game 2; Seattle wins series, 3-2|
|1998 NLDS: Bill Spiers (HOU) had walk-off hit in Game 2; San Diego wins series, 3-1|
|1999 ALDS: Travis Fryman (CLE) had walk-off hit in Game 1; Boston wins series, 3-2|
|2003 ALDS: Ramon Hernandez (OAK) had walk-off hit in Game 1; Boston wins series, 3-2|
|2004 NLDS: Rafael Furcal (ATL) had walk-off hit in Game 2; Houston wins series, 3-2|
As it concerns Division Series history, five times a team has endured the heartbreak of a walk-off loss before coming back and stealing a series win. Twice it's happened with NL teams, most recently with Houston's '04 series win over Atlanta. San Diego did it in 1998.
However, no NL team has ever emerged from an 0-2 NLDS deficit to extend its postseason life.
Now, the Cardinals are charged with the challenge of doing both.
"All we can do is concentrate on [Game 3] and forget [Game 2]," said Mark DeRosa, who is hoping to avoid being swept out of the NLDS for a second consecutive year. "It was one of the more devastating losses that I've ever been a part of, but on to the next game. We just have to find a way to win a game and put the pressure back on their shoulders."
Cardinals infielder Julio Lugo knows a little something about pulling out victories in three consecutive must-win games. He was on the 2007 Red Sox club that stunned the Indians when it climbed out of a 1-3 ALCS deficit and then marched its way to a World Series championship.
The key, Lugo emphasized as the Cardinals gathered for a rained-out workout at Busch Stadium on Friday, is that the focus has to remain narrow. Essentially, there's little need to worry about Games 4 and 5 unless Saturday's Game 3 can be won first.
0-2 Division Series deficits
"That's how you have to do it," Lugo said. "Both teams are very similar. We are very competitive and we have a lot of people with a lot of character here. I think we are in the same spot. We have a lot of talent, a lot of tough people. I think we can do it."
If there's a bright spot to be found in falling behind 0-2 in a span of 24 hours, it's that the Cardinals have not been overmatched in the process. St. Louis has actually outhit Los Angeles and has been outscored only by a combined three runs.
That, in essence, is the message Cardinals manager Tony La Russa offered his club on Friday. The team is obviously not in an enviable position. But as quickly as the Cardinals fell this far, they feel they can just as rapidly rise back up.
"We're still alive," La Russa said. "I'd rather not get beat, clearly. But I'd rather get your heart broken than be eliminated. I've said it over and over again -- and every time I say it they keep showing it -- this is a very tough-minded club."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.