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Cards smell pennant after Game 5 win

Cards smell pennant after win

ST. LOUIS -- Maligned for months, and believed to be in deep trouble just 24 hours earlier, the Cardinals now stand on the verge of the National League pennant.

Six superb innings from Jeff Weaver and home runs from Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan helped send St. Louis to a 4-2 win over the Mets at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, giving the Cardinals a three-games-to-two lead. Game 6 is set for Wednesday night, and though it's at Shea Stadium, the Cards have ace Chris Carpenter slated to start that game.

It's a dramatic turnaround from how things looked entering the game. The Cards had to face a lefty, and not just any lefty, but Hall of Fame-bound southpaw Tom Glavine. Had they been unable to beat Glavine, who twirled seven shutout innings in Game 1, they would have had to win twice in two tries on the road.

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Suddenly, though, thanks to Weaver, Pujols, Duncan and plenty of others, the path looks much, much clearer. Win one, and World Series here they come. An 83-win regular-season team, a team that faced four months of "what's-wrong" questions, needs one win for the franchise's 17th National League championship.

"You've got to go out and play it on the field, but you figure we've got the two guys that have been our go-to guys this year, Carp and [Jeff Suppan, who would start Game 7], ready to go, locked and loaded," said Aaron Miles, who hit an eighth-inning triple.

"But you still have to go out and play it on the field. That's a great team over there, and they can get at anybody. But I think we would have taken this scenario, especially the way the year has gone for us."

Five days after Glavine -- by far the Mets' best healthy starting pitcher -- shut them down, the Cards got to him on Tuesday. Glavine rolled through the first three innings, but got into trouble after being handed a 2-0 lead in the fourth. Ironically, he faded much like a man pitching on short rest, rather than a pitcher who was granted a fourth day due to a rainout.

Fittingly, the comeback started with Pujols' long ball. The man who started a furor with some unflattering comments about Glavine after Game 1 of the series smoked a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth, an instant retort after New York had taken a 2-0 lead.

"I think the main thing is when they scored the two runs in the fourth, you want to answer back, and that's what we did," Pujols said. "I hit the big home run and we ended up tying the game."

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The dinger seemed to dent Glavine's seemingly impregnable armor, and the Cardinals pushed from there. Scott Rolen drew a two-out walk and Jim Edmonds singled. Ronnie Belliard followed with an RBI single, and the crowd of 46,496 roared to life.

"Pujols, he's a great hitter," Belliard said. "And he got one pitch in the middle of the plate and hit it out. After that, everybody else put good at-bats together and we tied the game."

Glavine emerged without further damage in the fourth, but he couldn't escape the fifth. David Eckstein singled and Preston Wilson doubled, giving St. Louis the lead for the first time. After an intentional walk to Pujols, a pair of Mets relievers got three outs without another run scoring, but the damage was done.

"We went to right field," Belliard said. "The last time we faced [Glavine], in New York, he was hitting the outside corner like he always does. But I think we had a lot of good balls, just right at people. Today, a lot of balls fell for base hits."


Redbirds in the catbird's seat
Since the League Championship Series went to seven games in 1985, teams with a 3-2 lead are 10-5 in the NLCS.
Year
Team
Opponent
Result
1985
Cardinals
Dodgers
Won in 6
1986
Mets
Astros
Won in 6
1987
Giants
Cardinals
Lost in 7
1988
Dodgers
Mets
Won in 7
1990
Reds
Pirates
Won in 6
1991
Pirates
Braves
Lost in 7
1992
Braves
Pirates
Won in 7
1993
Phillies
Braves
Won in 6
1996
Cardinals
Braves
Lost in 7
1997
Marlins
Braves
Won in 6
1998
Padres
Braves
Won in 6
1999
Braves
Mets
Won in 6
2003
Cubs
Marlins
Lost in 7
2004
Astros
Cardinals
Lost in 7
2005
Astros
Cardinals
Won in 6

Duncan's pinch-hit homer off left-hander Pedro Feliciano in the sixth capped the Cardinals scoring.

Meanwhile, once he was let off the hook, Weaver responded with what may have been his two best innings of the game. He permitted a Paul Lo Duca single in the fifth and a walk to Jose Valentin in the sixth, but wasn't threatened after St. Louis scored. Weaver has a 2.16 ERA in three postseason starts.

"I knew what they had hit before," Weaver said. "And more than anything, I just tried to get ahead of them. Once you do that, you can make pitches in zones that you feel you can get them out with, and they are going to have to be aggressive at it and try to put it in play."

And a game after its worst showing of the playoffs, the Cardinals' bullpen returned to form to bring the game home. Josh Kinney retired four batters before leaving after a pair of base hits in the eighth. Randy Flores retired Shawn Green with two men in scoring position, and Adam Wainwright ended the eighth-inning scare before closing it out for his first save of the series.

"Looking from the outside in, it's a lot better [position] than anyone ever thought we'd be in," said Wainwright. "We're in a great position to go back over to New York. We've got our horse on the mound in Chris Carpenter and we're pretty confident right now. We know it's going to be tough over there. But if we just play a couple good games, hopefully just one game, [we can] get out of there and go to the World Series."

Since the League Championship Series was extended to a best-of-seven in 1985, 15 series have gone to a sixth game. In 10 of those series, the team with the 3-2 lead advanced to the World Series.

Matthew Leach 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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