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The first step

Cards glad to get win No. 1, but now the pressure's on

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Posted: Saturday October 14, 2000 11:22 PM

  Andy Benes Andy Benes allowed six hits in eight innings to get the Cardinals back to within one game of the Mets in the NLCS. AP

By John Donovan,

NEW YORK -- Stop spreading the news, already.

The St. Louis Cardinals, given up for so much postseason rail-kill on the tracks to a Subway Series, got up, brushed themselves off and punished the New York Mets on Saturday in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

Back in it? You better believe the Cardinals think so.

All worked up about themselves? Well, not quite yet.

"If you don't go out, play hard and play like you know you can," said Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina, "then today doesn't matter."

It might not matter after Game 4 in this series is finished Sunday night. But Saturday night, after taking their first game this year in Shea Stadium and their first in this series, nothing could have mattered more.

So the Subway Series will have to wait for right now.

"We're not going to give in or give up," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We come from the Midwest and that [a Subway Series] is not what people want there."

A New York Yankees-New York Mets series seemed predestined after the Mets took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS and the Yankees went up 2-1 on the Seattle Mariners in the American League version.

But nobody told the Cardinals that. They jumped out to their first lead of the series with two runs in the first, fought back a New York challenge in the fourth, then put away the Mets with three runs in the top of the fifth.

Afterward, in a loud clubhouse where profane lyrics from a rap band blared and smiles were plastered all around, the Cardinals looked relieved and happy to be back in the hunt. A loss Saturday, they knew, would have been almost insurmountable to overcome. No team ever has ever come back, down three games to none, to win a seven -game series.

"There's no secret to this game," said outfielder Jim Edmonds, who started things with a two-run double in the first. "We just got a couple hits and got ahead of them."

Right-hander Andy Benes went eight strong innings for the win, the Cardinals had several key hits and they toughened up defensively when they needed to. Benes got Mike Piazza to ground into a double play in the first with the bases loaded and nobody out, then snared a line drive off the bat of Robin Ventura for the third out.

And in the fourth, Benes weaseled out of another bases-loaded, no-out jam by getting Jay Payton to ground into a double play. The Mets scored only one run that inning, too.

Now, the Cardinals have to see if they can win Sunday to even the series and force a Game 6 in St. Louis. If they lose, they'll be looking at an elimination game in Monday's Game 5 at Shea.

"It's not big unless we win tomorrow," Cardinals outfielder Jim Edmonds said of Saturday's game. "We have to win."

Related information
Cards score early and often, get back in series
Notebook: NLCS Game 3
Mets right-hander brings out the best in Cardinals
Closer Look: Payton's double play sinks Mets
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