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the cardinals are making their eighth nlcs appearance in 2005; they've won four of the preceding seven. in the aggregate the cards have played 40 nlcs games; their record is 20-20.

at busch stadium the cardinals are 14-6 in nlcs action; they swept their home games in 1982 (2-0), 1985 (3-0), and 2005 (4-0) but went winless there in 2000 and 2002 (0-2 both years). of their 14 wins at busch, three have been walkoffs, three have been shutouts, and five have been one-run games. only two of the series have ended at busch, both in game 7 victories by st louis: 1987 and 2005.

i have attended four nlcs games at busch, all against the braves, beginning with the very first: a 3-hit shutout by bob forsch in game 1 of the '82 nlcs. in truth, the first game was played the previous day: the braves (behind phil niekro) led the cards (andujar) 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the 5th when rain forced a cancellation. i've always wondered: would mlb have counted that game if it had become official (ie, two more outs)? surely not; and yet if i recall there was (and maybe still is) no rule on the books to state otherwise. anybody know? surely they've corrected that oversight by now; a 1-0 five-inning "win" should not count in any postseason series . . . .

i also attended all three home nlcs games vs the defending world-champ braves in 1996. one of my favorite baseball memories comes from game 4 of that year. the cardinals (big underdogs) led the series 2 games to 1 but trailed 3-0 in game 4 with two outs in the bottom of the 7th; they'd only managed 1 hit off denny neagle up to that point. then, without warning, they rallied to tie the score: single, walk, triple, walk, single. in the bottom of the 8th, score still 3-3, brian jordan came to the plate with one out and nobody on, and my dad said idly: "i think it's jordan's turn to be the hero." i asked: "are you calling the shot here? a home run?" and he said "yes, i'm calling it." "this pitch?" "this pitch."

boom. right into the braves' bullpen.

yeah they fell apart after that, but i don't care. that one moment made the series for me.

on the road, the cards are 6-14 all time; they have only been swept once, last year (0-3). i've attended four of the 20 road games, all in california (where i went to school in the 1980s). best memory there, no contest: the game 6 clincher in 1985, when jack clark ejected a tom niedenfuer fastball from dodger stadium with two outs in the 9th inning. big fun, even if nobody called it in advance.

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and the astros? ev'y time they go to the nlcs, they have their hearts broken. in 1980 they led 2 games to 1 and held a 2-0 lead in the 8th inning of game 4 -- six outs from the pennant. the phillies rallied for three, but the astros tied it 3-3 in the bottom of the 9th, only to lose in the 10th inning when the phils doubled home a coupla runs. in the deciding game 5 they broke up a 2-2 tie with three 7th inning runs; again, six outs from the pennant, with nolan ryan himself on the mound. the phillies rallied for five, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs with two outs. now trailing 7-5; the astros calmly tied it in the bottom of the 8th on two-out singles from landestroy and cruz. in the 10th the phillies took the lead on yet another two-out hit, a double by maddux; and that was the series.

the 1986 nlcs was among the most remarkable postseason series ever. the mets and astros played 64 innings of baseball, and at the end of 55 of them houston was either tied or ahead. they never trailed in game 3 until the last pitch, which len dykstra parked for a game-winning two-run hr; likewise, they never trailed in game 5 until the last pitch, a tie-breaking 12th-inning single by gary carter off charlie kerfeld. then there was the extraordinary game 6, which at 16 innings was the longest playoff game in history until sunday, when the astros broke their own record. the astros' current manager, phil garner, batted 3d for houston and doubled home the game's 1st run; by the time it was over he'd been lifted for a pinch-hitter / defensive sub.

the lesson here is that the astros are never an easy out. i wouldn't expect 'em to be in 2005 either. but better their hearts should break again than ours . . . .