Insiders - Cards Advance To The World Series

The Cardinals' improbable season became more improbable Thursday night when they beat the New York Mets, 3-1, to capture the National League pennant.

The last 11 teams since 1975 that had come home trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series had won Game 7 if they won Game 6. And this year's Cardinals team won only 83 games in the regular season.

But after Mets left fielder Endy Chavez made a miraculous catch to rob Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen of a two-run homer in the sixth inning, NLCS Most Valuable Player Jeff Suppan pitched out of a bases-loaded spot in the bottom of the inning, with the key a strikeout of Jose Valentin for the second out. The game turned at that point.

Suppan held the Mets hitless from the second through the seventh. In his two postseason appearances against the Mets, Suppan limited the Mets to one run in 15 innings.

Postseason series provide some unusual heroes, and Thursday night's was Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, a .216 hitter during the regular season who hit a two-run homer off reliever Aaron Heilman to win the game in the ninth.

The Cardinals' bullpen, revamped since closer Jason Isringhausen was declared out for the season in September, got scoreless relief from left-hander Randy Flores, who navigated a difficult eighth after replacing Suppan, and rookie right-hander Adam Wainwright, who fanned Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to end the game.

REPLAY: With New York Mets closer Billy Wagner sitting in the bullpen, catcher Yadier Molina, an automatic out much of the season, popped a two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning to give the Cardinals a 3-1 win and a berth in their second World Series in the last three years.

Right-hander Jeff Suppan and lefty Randy Flores, the winning pitcher, held the Mets hitless from the second through the eighth before rookie right-hander Adam Wainwright pitched around two singles and a walk in the ninth.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--The Cardinals' victory Thursday was their 10th in 14 Game 7's in their history.

--The Detroit Tigers and the Cardinals have met twice before in the World Series, with the Cardinals winning in seven games in 1934 and the Tigers winning in seven games in 1968.

--The first-game starter for the Cardinals is expected to be either rookie RHP Anthony Reyes or 14-game winner Jason Marquis, who was left off the roster for the NLCS.

--C Yadier Molina, who hit eighth most of the season, was promoted to No. 7 Thursday night in the midst of a good postseason, and he rewarded manager Tony La Russa's confidence in him with a two-run homer in the ninth.

--CF Jim Edmonds appeared to re-injure his left foot in a collision with LF Preston Wilson in the third inning but stayed in the game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- National League pennants won by the Cardinals.

9 -- World Series won by the Cardinals.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this is the best team -- and we proved it." -- C Yadier Molina, who hit the decisive home run in Game 7 of the NLCS.


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