St. Louis The last two weeks of the regular season, the St. Louis Cardinals were running on fumes and lucky to make the postseason.
After a gutsy pitching performance by Jeff Suppan, some timely Cardinals hits and one big slip on wet grass by Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson, St. Louis is on the verge of its first World Series championship since 1982.
"We're just trying to keep our focus, and our focus is to come out tomorrow night and be ready to play," said Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein.
Granderson lost his footing chasing a routine fly ball to start the seventh, gifting a double to Eckstein, who scored the tying run on a single by Preston Wilson. Eckstein hit another double in the eighth inning - this one glancing off the outstretched glove of diving left fielder Craig Monroe - for the game-winner.
One thing for those fans to be wary of: The Cardinals have been up 3-1 on the Tigers in a World Series before - the first time in 1968 - and blew it. St. Louis is also the most recent team to let a 3-1 World Series lead slip away, in the 1985 I-70 Series against the cross-state Kansas City Royals.
"I know the history," manager Tony La Russa said. "I don't even want to talk about it, to be honest. What is the point of bringing that up? We need to win a game, and nobody is over-confident."
Certainly not Red Schoendienst, the manager of that '68 team, now a special assistant to general manager Walt Jocketty. Or Bob Gibson, the star pitcher of that team, now a special instructor in spring training.
To prevent that history from repeating, the Cardinals turn to another unlikely postseason standout - the reclamation project Jeff Weaver, who gets a chance to close it out at Busch Stadium in tonight's Game 5.
Rookie Anthony Reyes, who threw eight shutout innings in Game 1 to get the Cardinals off to a flying start, is the likely pitcher in Game 6, and Ace Chris Carpenter would be needed only if the Tigers push the series to a seventh game.
La Russa was encouraged that he didn't see anybody getting carried away after Game 4.
"I'm not going to jinx anything," he said. "The reality is all we are is close. You need four games and we have three, that's the fact."
The Cardinals posted a paltry 83-78 regular-season record, nothing like the 100-win St. Louis teams of 2004 and 2005. Of course, those teams didn't fare nearly as well in the playoffs: St. Louis was swept in the 2004 World Series by the Red Sox, and lost in a six-game NLCS to the Astros last year.
But ever since the Cardinals backed into the playoffs with a horrid 3-9 finish, they've been reborn. St. Louis took out the favored Padres in four games in the division series, then outlasted the Mets in a seven-game NLCS highlighted by the stingy pitching that earned Suppan the MVP of that series.
They're one win away from their first championship since the days of Whitey Ball, when Whitey Herzog recruited jackrabbits to run wild on an AstroTurf field at old Busch Stadium. This is their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons under manager Tony La Russa, and while they had no luck at old Busch, they could become the first team since the 1923 Yankees to win a title in the first year at the new ballpark.
They beat the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982, winning the last two at home in a seven-game series.