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Reality bites

Cardinals begin to face up to difficult task ahead

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Posted: Friday October 13, 2000 2:06 AM
Updated: Friday October 13, 2000 2:19 AM
  Rick Ankiel Rick Ankiel (right) is confident the Cardinals can bring the NLCS back to St. Louis. AP

By John Donovan,

ST. LOUIS -- If the St. Louis Cardinals didn't yet know they were in for a fight in this National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, if they didn't want to face it after a loss Wednesday in Game 1 ... well, they've got no choice but to 'fess up now.

Suddenly down 2-0 in the first-to-four NLCS after a painful loss Thursday in Game 2 -- with both losses coming in their own Busch Stadium, no less -- the Cardinals find themselves in desperate straits. And, though they put up a confident front after Thursday's 6-5 loss, you better believe they know how desperate things are.

"I know that, coming in -- and it was pretty much talked about in this locker room," Cardinals first baseman Will Clark was saying, "[we knew] this is going to be a tough series."

The Cardinals took a typical "What Me Worry?" attitude after the Game 1 setback. But Thursday, after fighting back twice from two runs down, they finally succumbed when the Mets scored the winning run in the top of the ninth. Afterward, as they loaded up their bags for the trip to New York for Games 3, 4 and 5, the realization of the road ahead smacked into them full force.

The Cardinals, who never trailed after a full inning in their Division Series sweep of the Atlanta Braves, have yet to get a lead on these Mets in the NLCS.

And things won't get any easier from here.

The loss Thursday puts the Cards in the precarious position of trying to win the NLCS after losing the first two games, something only two other teams in history -- the '84 San Diego Padres and the '85 Cardinals -- have done.

"We have to win four out of five," said Andy Benes, scheduled to start Game 3 on Saturday at Shea Stadium. "But we play well on the road. I'm sure we'll win a couple games there. A lot of guys in here expect to win at least two games there."

If they can do that, the Cards will force the series back to St. Louis for the final two games.

Though that has hardly been a good thing for them so far in this series.

"Our team's fought back all year long. I haven't counted the guys in here out at all," Benes insisted.

"I think we played really well. A couple of errors here and there cost us. But we played pretty well," said J.D. Drew, who came through with a clutch hit in the bottom of the eighth, only to see it wasted when the Mets went back on top in the next half-inning.

"We just have to go to New York and kick some [expletive expletive]," said Cardinals starter Rick Ankiel, who lasted only 2/3 of an inning Thursday in his second straight wild start. "We can do it."

Right now, that's the Cardinals' only choice.

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