The Dodgers had one fleeting chance to make this a series; it passed when Steve Finley skyed a borderline fastball into center field, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the fourth. Against reliever Cal Eldred, who had walked both Cesar Izturis and Jayson Werth to fill 'em up with two outs, Finley took three straight balls -- that made 11 balls in Eldred's first 17 pitches -- then a strike, swung and missed at a hittable fastball in, and, with the count full, went after Eldred's toughest pitch of the evening, a fastball up, just off the outside corner. Eldred had pounded the inside half of the plate for most of the at-bat; Finley reacted outside and pushed an easy fly ball at Edmonds. "Fifteen years, his first postseason appearance," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I mean, he was really excited, and he comes out and gets us two outs, the biggest out of the game with Finley. He had a big smile on his face the rest of the game." Said Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, "That was our opportunity."
From the Bench
Cardinals starter Jason Marquis battled with substandard stuff all night, but when it became apparent, with one out in the top of the fourth, that he'd lost both his location and his ability to keep his two- and four-seam fastballs down in the zone, La Russa didn't hesitate with a quick hook. Marquis, who had been nibbling -- 22 pitches in the first, 23 in the second, 23 in the third -- and ducking real damage, began the fourth by delivering back-to-back home runs. Shawn Green collared a 3-2 fastball that caught too much of the outside corner, and Milton Bradley, again on 3-2, blistered a letter-high heater for a 461-foot bomb that landed behind the Cardinals' bullpen in deep right. After Marquis walked light-hitting catcher David Ross (his fourth of the night) and missed badly up and in to Jeff Weaver, who was squaring to bunt, La Russa made the move to Eldred.
Thing is, Cardinals detractors have long pointed to the club's middling rotation as its only blemish, but St. Louis' pen, which led the NL with a regular-season ERA of 3.01 and 57 saves, has been deep and consistent. So why get beaten where you're weakest?
"He was struggling," La Russa said. "We just didn't feel it was going to get any better, and it was a good time to get him." Thanks to this series' unusual three-games-in-five-days format, everybody was rested, and will be again by Game 3, should the erratic Matt Morris require a similar rescue operation.
St. Louis was thrilled to get two shutout relief innings from Danny Haren, who spent most of the season starting at Class AAA Memphis, where he was 11-4 with a 4.15 ERA and led the Pacific Coast League with 150 strikeouts in 128 innings. He struck out three, all on splitters, including the first batter he faced, Adrian Beltre. "I knew Marquis' pitch count was high, so there was a shot," Haren said. ... L.A.'s inability to put innings away persisted. The Cardinals were 7-for-15 with two outs, and 13 of their 16 runs during the series have come with two out. ... Under La Russa, St. Louis is 13-3 in NLDS games.
As they say in horse racing, class will tell. There's a reason St. Louis wrapped up its division in mid-July, while the Dodgers needed 161 games to win theirs. The Cardinals, schoolyard bullies with variegated palettes, beat you a dozen different ways. In Game 2, they showed some littleball: Reggie Sanders glued together a three-run seond-inning rally with a gorgeous push bunt past the pitcher's mound, beat out a groundball hit to Izturis, maybe the NL's best defensive shortstop, in the fourth, and reached on a hit-by-pitch during another three-run burst in the fifth. On a night that saw Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Edmonds go 1-for-11, catcher Mike Matheny, a .247 hitter all season, was 2-for-4 and knocked in four runs. "You can take no hitter for granted at any time," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. The Cardinals got a solid start and five homers in Game 1; they got a knock-kneed start and only three extra-base hits out of 11 in Game 2, but the results were identical. L.A. is on life support.