In The Driver’s Seat

The St. Louis Cardinals find themselves one win from their 18th World Series appearance after beating the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1 Friday night to take a three games to two lead in the NLCS. The Cards got timely hits, capitalized on numerous Milwaukee mistakes, and turned in another stellar bullpen performance in the last NLCS game at Busch Stadium for 2011.

It is interesting to note that three times in the last three weeks, the Cardinals have played a home game that could have turned out to be the final game at Busch for the year. Each could also have been the final home game for Albert Pujols and/or Tony LaRussa (among others) as a Cardinal. Yet they have won each of these games, and eventually clinched some type of victory that allows this 2011 season to continue on to the next level. And they have to do it once again.

Maybe it was a nod from the baseball gods that the Cardinals won. October 14th is the anniversary of another pivotal Game 5: the 1985 NLCS. And with Ozzie Smith in the house to throw out he first pitch while Jack Buck’s golden voice set the scene over the video replay from 26 years ago, it really felt like there was no way the Cardinals could lose this game. The difference in this year’s Game 5, of course, was the absence of the heart-stopping, dramatic ending. But a win is a win, and the most unenviable position imaginable would be having to go win two games in a row in Milwaukee in order to win the series. Instead, the Cards enjoy one more “Happy Flight” that hopefully isn’t their last.

That’s not to say the Cards have no shot at winning at Miller Park. Obviously they’ve already won one game there this series and they won several there during the regular season. If nothing drastic happens, the Cardinals definitely have the better starting pitcher going in Game 6 (Edwin Jackson over Shawn Marcum) and at the very least carry a slight advantage for Game 7 (Chris Carpenter over Yovani Gallardo). And with momentum on their side, the Cards have to be the favorites—if only by a hair—to win this thing and move on to the World Series.

Had the Cardinals not given up the lead in Game 4, all the discussion about games in Milwaukee would be moot; they would have wrapped up the series Friday. But it was the Brewers who played themselves out of the game this time. They committed four errors, their pitching wasn’t very good, and they came up empty in clutch situations. As a result, their backs are against the wall for however long this series lasts.

And now, the NLCS shifts back to Milwaukee. Maybe the Cards can wrap this thing up Sunday and give everyone all the rest they need back home before the World Series starts up in St. Louis. Maybe we’ll see a go-ahead bomb from Pujols while Nyjer Morgan watches it fly over his head then throws his glove down in disgust.

Regardless, Game 5 was just another must-win game for the St. Louis Cardinals. They’re probably getting pretty used to them these days, considering every game has been a must-win since the end of August. And that’s how they should view Game 6 as well.

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