Even though Pujols has helped fill the run-production void left by McGwire, St. Louis was 54-52 and 7� games out of first place in the National League Central when general manager Walt Jocketty acquired Williams, who was 8-8 with a 4.97 ERA at the time and who has never appeared in the postseason. "We were one starting pitcher short," Jocketty says, "and we noticed he was a good second-half pitcher." Lifetime in September and October, Williams was 13-8 with a 2.96 ERA through Sunday. He was 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA since joining the Cardinals.
"To tell you the truth," Williams says, "when I got here, it didn't seem as if the guys were heading in the right direction. I kept telling them that nobody's going to ruin my fun. I want to get there. That's a dream of mine, to play in the postseason."
St. Louis soon awakened, launching an 11-game winning streak on Aug. 9. Drew, Edmonds and Renteria heated up at the plate. Williams and slightly built lefthanded rookie Bud Smith, who threw a no-hitter on Sept. 3 in San Diego, made the back end of the rotation nearly as reliable as the front—righthanders Matt Morris, Darryl Kile and Dustin Hermanson, who have not missed a turn. As of Sunday, St. Louis was 16-5 in games started by Williams and Smith (3-0, 0.43 ERA this month).
For a team that looked lost for most of the summer, the Cardinals appeared remarkably self-assured after last Saturday's rather routine win. For instance, though two clubhouse televisions showed a game between the Houston Astros, whom they trailed in the Central by 4� games at week's end, and the Chicago Cubs, who trailed the Cardinals by 3� for the wild card, almost no one paid any attention to it. "I don't care much who wins that game," Morris said. "We have to take care of ourselves. If we do, we'll be in good shape."
Said Pujols, softly, "We are going to be in the playoffs. That's what I believe."
He had led his teammates this far. Who among them could doubt him now?