Miguel Cairo, starting in place of injured Scott Rolen, drove in
two runs and scored twice as the Cardinals beat the Arizona
Diamondbacks 6-3 Saturday night to complete a three-game sweep in
the NL division series.
"We really wanted to try to win it and get some rest before the next round,'' leadoff hitter Fernando Vina said. "We didn't want to face Randy and Curt, we wanted to get it over with.''
Playing an inspired postseason following the deaths of pitcher Darryl Kile and broadcaster Jack Buck, the Cardinals advanced to the NL championship series for the second time in three years. And they did it by defeating the team that chased them in a tense, Game 5 of the opening round last season.
"This win right here is for D.K. and Jack Buck,'' Vina said.
"They're part of the Cardinals family and we lost them. My heart
goes out to the families. Hopefully we can go all the way to the
Pitcher Matt Morris carried Kile's jersey into a group celebration near second base after the final out. St. Louis now will play either Atlanta or San Francisco starting Wednesday.
There's no telling when -- or if -- Rolen will return to the
Cardinals lineup. The All-Star third baseman injured his left
shoulder in Game 2, which Cairo won with an RBI single.
The Diamondbacks, who won the World Series in record speed -- it took them only four years -- lost their crown in just three games.
Minus injured star Luis Gonzalez, who separated his shoulder in
the final week of the regular season at Busch Stadium, Arizona
totaled a mere six runs and 18 hits in the series.
"It puts a strain on the offense,'' manager Bob Brenly said. "It gives the opposition the opportunity to pitch around the hitters they think can hurt them the most. It started to show up at the end of the season, and really here in the playoffs.''
Earlier Saturday, the New York Yankees were eliminated from the
AL playoffs. Without the Diamondbacks and Yankees, baseball fans
are assured of seeing two new teams in the World Series for the
first time since 1998.
The Cardinals have swept their way into the NLCS three times
since baseball went to a division-series format in 1995, also
taking the Braves in three straight in 2000 and the Padres in 1996.
Counting the regular season, the Cardinals have beaten the Diamondbacks seven straight times, including a victory over Johnson in Game 1. Schilling started Game 2, and St. Louis won once he departed.
During the regular season, Cairo ranked second in the NL with 19
"I tried to take this game like another game, like a
regular-season game,'' Cairo said. "Today, I was just thinking I was pinch-hitting every at-bat.''
Pujols saved a 4-3 lead in the fifth when he threw out Chris
Donnels at the plate from left field on Steve Finley's two-out hit.
Manager Tony La Russa started Pujols, who led the team with 127 RBI in the regular season, in left field instead of third base in place of Rolen to allow him to concentrate more on hitting.
Cairo had an RBI single in the second off Miguel Batista. Rolen
is out for an undetermined period with a sprained left shoulder.
The St. Louis bullpen overcame a wild outing from Benes, who got
the start in Game 3 in place of the injured Woody Williams.
Benes walked four and gave up a pair of home runs, a two-run
shot in the second by David Dellucci and a solo homer in the fifth
by Rod Barajas that cut the Diamondbacks' deficit to 4-3, and
failed to make it out of the fifth.
The homers were the only hits allowed in 4 2/3 innings by Benes,
who entered the game with a string of 17 consecutive scoreless
Benes' biggest contribution was a squeeze bunt in the fourth
that put the Cardinals ahead to stay at 3-2. Benes, who batted .206
with a homer and two RBI this season, kept the Diamondbacks
guessing by going in and out of a bunt stance several times before
laying one down just past the plate on a 3-1 pitch as Cairo tumbled
across the plate.
Vina added an RBI single in the fourth to chase Batista (0-1). He was 2-for-4 in the clincher and 9-for-15 in the series after a somewhat sub-par .270 average in the regular season.
"You always want to be confident,'' Vina said. "As a leadoff hitter the weight is on your shoulders to try to get something going for the ballclub.''
Jeff Fassero (2-0) allowed two hits in 1 1/3 innings, benefiting from Pujols' assist in the fifth, to win his second game of the series. Rick White worked a perfect seventh, Steve Kline worked a perfect eighth and Jason Isringhausen finished for the save.
Batista was 8-9 with a 4.29 ERA during the regular season, a
decided step down from 23-game winners Johnson and Schilling. But
Brenly never considered using Johnson on three days' rest,
reasoning someone other than his big two would have to beat the
Cardinals for the Diamondbacks to advance.
Batista beat the Cardinals in Game 3 last fall but lasted only 3
2/3 innings this time, giving up four runs on five hits.
"The Cardinals just had a great approach,'' Brenly said. "Most
pitchers will tell you they rely on the hitters' aggressiveness,
but they stayed disciplined and used short, contact swings.''
The Cardinals came from behind to win for the 44th time this
season. Counting the regular season and playoffs, this was their
Carole Buck, the widow of longtime Cardinals broadcaster
Jack Buck, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jack Buck's
longtime sidekick, Mike Shannon, made a barehanded catch on the
receiving end. ... The Diamondbacks' Alex Cintron was booed heavily
in pregame introductions. Cintron banged into Rolen on the
basepaths in Game 2, injuring his shoulder.