Win Averts Need for Cards to Repeat 1985

After gambling by burning his ace, Chris Carpenter, before coming back to win the NLCS Game Two, Tony La Russa's 2006 Cardinals narrowly averted having to replicate the feat of Whitey Herzog's 1985 squad as the only National League team ever to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a seven-game NLCS.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa may have had too much time to think during Wednesday's rain delay. Before the cancellation, his initial impression was to stick to his regular rotation, which would have put Jeff Suppan on the mound for the National League Championship Series Game Two and Chris Carpenter at home for Game Three.

However, with a whole night to look at numbers and ruminate, La Russa shifted gears. He decided to keep his best pitcher, Carpenter, or regular rest, moving him up to Friday's Game Two and delaying Suppan for Saturday's Game Three in St. Louis on Saturday night.

- Part of the logic was that Suppan is better at home than on the road. But, then again, so is Carpenter.

- Part of the logic was to have Carpenter ready again in Game Six instead of Game Seven.

- Part of the logic was that La Russa wanted to nullify home field advantage by grabbing one win in New York by pitching his ace.

The latter partially failed, however, as the Cards won not because of Carpenter, but in spite of him.

Starting in the very first inning Friday night, Carpenter served up a three-run home run to Carlos Delgado, putting the Cardinals in a hole before they could barely get warmed up.

Carp allowed five runs in five innings, a performance that looked more a journeyman's outing than one by a Cy Young Award candidate.

Ever since Wednesday, the Cardinal Nation has been consumed with debates, discussions and even arguments over the relative merits of La Russa's flip-flop.

Despite the Cardinals' stirring comeback Friday night, others will continue to analyze and re-analyze, at least until Saturday's outcome is clear. But, to this writer, La Russa's decision is over and done with.

Looking forward, what remains is the need for Cardinals Suppan and Anthony Reyes, the Game Four starter, to step up and deliver what neither Jeff Weaver nor Carpenter could – an NLCS win each.

And, even so, those two additional weekend wins would not be good enough to end the Series. On top of those two victories, at least one win from Weaver on short rest or Carpenter back in New York would be needed for the Cardinals to wrap up the series prior to a pivotal Game Seven.

While the outcome of these upcoming contests will not be affected by games played in past seasons, looking at recent history can still prove to be illustrative.

Were the Cardinals' hopes coming into Game Two well-founded?

Yes, they sure were. Almost one of every three past NLCS Game One losers came back to win the Series.

Fact: In the 36 NLCS in history, the loser of Game One came back to take the Series on eleven different occasions.

But, the Cardinals were most recently on the wrong side of this ledger. The 2005 Houston Astros defeated the Cardinals last season after dropping the opener of the 2005 NLCS.

Yet, it hasn't happened often in recent years.

Fact: Prior to 2005, one has to go all the way back to the 1991 Atlanta Braves to find an NLCS Game One loser that came back to take the Series.

Still, in several ways, the Cardinals win in Game Two was typical.

Fact: In 19 of the 36 NLCS held prior to 2006, the loser of Game One bounced back to win Game Two.

Check.

Fact: In 22 of the past 36 NLCS, the road team won Game Two.

Check again.

Here is what the Cards narrowly avoided by their Game Two win.

In National League Championship Series history, falling behind no games-to-two is very common, but coming back to win the Series afterward is not.

Fact: Of the 17 clubs that fell behind 0-2 in the NLCS, just two of those teams ended up winning the Series.

And only one of them was in a real, seven-game series.

In the 1984 season, the Cubs won the first two games of the NLCS at Wrigley, but the San Diego Padres came back to take the Series three games to two.

However, that season was the final year the CS was a best-of-five. The 2-3 format in place at that time enabled the Padres to lose the first two, yet still win the final three games at home, a luxury which is not available to the 2006 Cardinals in today's 2-3-2 home-away-home seven-game schedule.

Fact: Since the seven-game LCS format was instituted in 1985, only one of the eight National League clubs that took a 2-0 CS lead failed to advance to the World Series.

That first season, the 1985 Los Angeles Dodgers won Games One and Two of the NLCS against Whitey Herzog's Cardinals. But, after sweeping Los Angeles in all three games at Busch Stadium, the Redbirds took Game Six back at Dodger Stadium on Jack Clark's three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning off the infamous Tom Niedenfuer.

So, how big was the Cardinals' 2006 NLCS Game Two win?

Pretty big. Now, the Cards have replaced the favored Mets in the driver's seat.

Or, have they?

Even with the win, don't get overly excited yet. A Game Two win following a Game One loss has been a Series-swinger less than half of the time.

Fact: Of the 19 teams that tied an NLCS series at one game apiece, fewer than half of them, nine, went on to take the Series and claim the pennant.

Cardinals fans may be able to remember the last time that happened, as their team was the Houston Astros' victim after having won Game One before losing Game Two and eventually, last season's NLCS.

Perhaps it is this flawed Cardinals club's turn to reverse their 2005 misfortune and victimize the 2006 Mets. 10-for-20 has a nice symmetry to it.

Of course, to get there, the Cardinals need to win three of five. Just three of five with their next three contests at home.

Final fact: In their last four NLCS, the Cardinals' result in Game Two mirrored their eventual result in the Series. One of them was even a win!
2005 – Game Two and Series – loss
2004 – Game Two and Series – win
2002 – Game Two and Series – loss
2001 – Game Two and Series - loss

Do these 2006 Cardinals have a little Jack Clark in them somewhere? Despite their big win in Game Two, they may still need it this coming week.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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