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3 down

first off: a tip of the cap to woody williams. he's still a cardinal in my book; the guy has a big heart and pitched a good game, gave his team a chance to win. i'm sorry the redbirds' victory came at his expense.

carpenter showed that he's got a bit of heart, too. after an ugly 35-pitch battle with himself in the 1st, he ditched his errant curveball and started flinging fastballs at the padres in a cold fury. made his 2d pass through the san diego lineup on only 30 pitches, of which 28 were fastballs by my count; only 1 guy reached base in that stretch, branyan on a scratch single. carpenter eventually recalled the curveball from exile but seemed to keep it under house arrest -- only threw it from ahead in the count, never more than once in an at-bat. even adrian gonzalez, who floundered against carpenter's hook in game 1, got one fastball after another. so much wickeder the contrast, then, when the brats came out of the bullpen snapping off sliders and curves. the young relievers didn't have any help last night from shadows at home plate, nor diving stops by the 2d baseman; just threw their breaking stuff for strikes, as they did all series, and kept mowing guys down. tyler johnson faced 12 men in this series and struck out 6 of them; wainwright faced 14 guys and also whiffed 6. as a group, the relievers had more strikeouts (16) than baserunners allowed (15); the cardinals didn't yield a single homer in the 4 games.

fan (non)favorite juan encarnacion took a coupla uncharacteristically patient at-bats last night in the middle of st louis' two rallies. in the first, batting with two on and two out and st louis trailing 2-0, he laid off the type of pitches -- breaking balls on the outside corner -- he so often gets himself out on and drew a walk, loading the bases for belliard (who tied it with a single). and in the 6th en'cion got another outside curve and, instead of trying to pull it, stayed back on the pitch and took it the other way -- into the right field corner for the triple that drove in the go-ahead run.

la russa had another flawless night. his two lineup crashers (wilson and spiezio) both got important hits, as did the guy he batted out of position (belliard). tony didn't call for the squeeze when ev'ybody was looking for it -- ie, with carpenter batting and st louis ahead 4-2 -- and then immediately flashed the sign when everyone stopped looking for it, ie after branyan's error; beautiful timing. and when carp finally tired, la russa did the opposite of what he did in this game and relieved his ace before things got out of hand. the st louis bullpen got 26 outs in defense of a lead in this series, and 24 of'm were recorded by rookies. i've been trolling looking for a comparable skew toward 1st-year relievers in the postseason; closest analog i've found so far (and try not to laugh) is the bullpen of the great 1975 cincinnati reds, whose co-closers that season were both rookies (rawly eastwick and will mcenaney). those two and a third rookie, pat darcy, tossed nearly 20 innings of relief in the '75 world series; give the cards johnny bench behind the plate and joe morgan at 2b and they just might have a shot at this.

every postseason, a few players exhibit skills they're not known for -- a tom lawless or jose oquendo hits a game-changing homer, or a brandon backe throws a shutout. these performances come not as a shock but as a cliche -- ho hum, another unlikely october hero. but a manager playing against type? that you don't see every year. we saw it in this divisional series, though. the same skipper who rode mulder marquis and isringhausen nearly all the way down to the .500 mark -- who spent so much of the summer explaining problems away, ignoring options, sticking with the tried and (no longer) true -- abruptly became a font of bold ideas, like moving josh kinney (whose big-league resume runs to 25 innings) into the role braden looper is being paid $4 million to fill. it's no shock that a guy like kinney should step up in october, only that he should get the chance to do so in tony la russa's bullpen.

la russa will need a few more bright ideas of this type (hint hint: one of'm wears #23) to make a series of it against the potent new york roster. he may also have to confront another october cliche, viz.: hot hands can go ice-cold without warning. the bullpen whiz kids of the last 4 games might not whiz right along in the next 7 games. but there wouldn't be a next 7 games if not for those rooks --- or the manager who let em go out there and pitch.

oh gosh -- almost forgot a limerick for the clincher:

one round down -- the first hurdle cleared
and the cards didn't trip, as we feared
praises to carp and pu
and the kid 'penners too
but above all: respect the playoff beard!