St. Louis Don't look now, but there's a bit of drama building in the "other" league championship series.
Answering a devastating walk-off homer in Game 5 with one of its own, St. Louis drew even in the NLCS on Wednesday when Jim Edmonds cranked a two-run shot off Dan Miceli in the bottom of the 12th inning. That gave the Cardinals a 6-4 victory over Houston and sent Busch Stadium into a frenzy.
It was the first time in major-league history that consecutive games in a postseason series ended on home runs.
The dramatic finish to a tense, hard-fought game made it winner-take-all tonight in Game 7, with Houston counting on future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens to deliver the first victory on enemy soil in this series.
"How much better does it get, Game 7 against Roger Clemens?" said Edmonds. "It's going to be a blast."
The participants in this series have developed something of an inferiority complex because of the national attention focused on the Boston-New York matchup in the ALCS. But that hasn't stopped the Astros and Cardinals from playing a string of fabulous games with one memorable, unpredictable moment after another.
As high as the Astros were after Jeff Kent won Game 5 with his walk-off homer in Houston, the Cardinals even were more jubilant after avoiding elimination. Albert Pujols, who went 3-for-5 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored, said he never doubted his team would respond with a clutch performance.
"I knew we would show up to play," said Pujols, who has set an NLCS record with 25 total bases. "We need one more win to get to the next level. We can't take anything for granted. We want to make it happen."
How even is this series? Through six games, each team is batting .246 with 29 runs, and each pitching staff has a 4.80 earned-run average.
"I hate to rate a series, but this has been six terrific games," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who will send Jeff Suppan to the mound tonight.
It was no great surprise when the battle Wednesday extended into overtime, with both managers using their closers for three innings of work. St. Louis' Jason Isringhausen was unable to secure a victory, allowing Jeff Bagwell to tie the game in the ninth with a two-out, run-scoring single.
Houston manager Phil Garner then turned to closer Brad Lidge, who continued his mastery of the Cardinals by pitching three perfect innings. When the Astros were unable to take advantage of Lidge's yeoman duty and win the game, however, they were in trouble.
Though he had Game 4 starter Roy Oswalt loosening in the bullpen, Garner called upon Dan Miceli, last seen surrendering back-to-back decisive homers to Pujols and Scott Rolen in Game 2 at Busch. Unfortunately for Miceli, it was deja vu all over again.
Miceli pitched around Pujols, walking him, then got Rolen on a first-pitch foul popup. But he put a 0-1 fastball in a bad place to Edmonds, who cranked it far over the right-field wall.
"I threw the pitch and it stayed up again," said a despondent Miceli. "It's a great lineup. I've been trying to make my pitch. I just haven't done it consistently yet."
The game had many twists and turns, including Pujols running through a stop sign by third-base coach Jose Oquendo in the fourth inning and getting thrown out at the plate. Houston standout Carlos Beltran ripped two liners so hard off the fence in right that he was held to singles both times.
Garner eventually ran out of players and had to use pitcher Brandon Backe, a former outfielder, to pinch hit in the 12th. By then, La Russa had gone to reliever Julian Tavarez, who pitched with two broken fingers on his glove hand suffered during a Game 4 dugout tantrum.
That's what kind of game it was as the Cardinals tried everything in their power to avoid becoming the third team in NLCS history to lose after winning the first two games. For the Astros, all that was at stake was a chance to go to the World Series for the first time in their 43-year history.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't get over the hump today and win this game," said Garner. "Just like this series has been all along, I'm sure (Thursday) will be another good game, another close game."