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Just like that, Cards hold the cards in Fall Classic

Trailing in Game 2 after tough opener, St. Louis rallies, finds itself in prime position @philgrogers

BOSTON -- Amazing how quickly things can swing in October. That's the beauty of playoff baseball.

One minute Fenway Park is jumping, with David Ortiz's home run in the bottom of the sixth inning the signal for 38,436 to start asking about the parade route. And then just as suddenly, it turns as quiet as Boston Common on a Sunday morning in December.

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The mute button, in this case, was a five-batter stretch in the top of the seventh inning when Mike Matheny managed as well as Carlos Beltran hit. And just like that, the Cardinals were leading the World Series over the Red Sox, one game apiece.

Well, OK, not literally leading the Series. That's a figure of speech. But for sure, they have tilted the event in the National League's direction, or at the very least set the table for an extended battle that provides a stage for someone to be the next Carlton Fisk.

The Cards' 4-2 victory in Game 2 -- secured by three blow-you-away innings from Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal -- not only offset an ugly St. Louis performance in Game 1, but it gave Cardinals Nation reason to thrill to the elegant strides of the Clydesdales on Saturday night, when the teams meet at Busch Stadium (6:30 p.m. CT airtime on FOX, 7:07 p.m. first pitch).

The Redbirds have many reasons to feel terrific about their situation. Among them is the fact that the next three games are home games, and St. Louis has played better at Busch this year than any other team in its home park. The Cardinals are 5-1 there in the postseason, 18-3 since the end of August and 59-28 overall.

"[We] feel good about ourselves, because we know how well we play at home," Beltran said.

And why wouldn't they be feeling good?

The Cards would seem to have at least a slight advantage in the pitching matchups. The Red Sox are starting the excitable Jake Peavy, who got pounded by the Tigers his last time out and is searching for the signature moment to his career, and a physically suspect Clay Buchholz in Games 3 and 4 (not that Joe Kelly and, most likely, Lance Lynn have been stringing together zeroes).

Michael Wacha, the best pitcher on the planet at this moment, is lined up to pitch Game 6 when the series comes back to Fenway Park, assuming it does. The rookie was lucky to be the winning pitcher on Thursday night, when he walked off the mound trailing, 2-1, after Ortiz's home run. But opponents have hit .103 off Wacha in his last five starts, four of which were in playoff games. He hasn't allowed a hit with a runner in scoring position in more than a month.

"He's been incredible," Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay said. "We saw a glimpse of it in Spring Training when it was his first time around us, and a lot of guys were saying he could pitch right now in the big leagues. He went down to the Minors, didn't pout, worked hard, came back and has been outstanding. He has been huge."

Beltran, who needed an injection of a painkiller to mask the pain from the badly bruised ribs he hurt slamming into the right-field wall in Game 1, was a big factor in Game 2 (2-for-4 including a gorgeous go-with-the-pitch single off lefty Craig Breslow to score an insurance run and cap the Red Sox's meltdown in the seventh inning). And Beltran should feel better with some rest and more treatment.

Matheny declared himself "very encouraged" about Beltran, admitting he didn't know what to expect when Game 2 began.

"We were all kind of sitting around waiting to see how things would turn out today," the manager said. "We didn't know how he was going to feel. But obviously he feels pretty good. He was moving well, too. ... He's the kind of guy that knows how to make the best of what he has."

With no designated hitter in the NL park, the Red Sox will have to sit either Ortiz -- who has five home runs in the last 11 games and 17 all-time in the postseason -- or Mike Napoli, whose three-run double was the big blow in the 8-1 victory in Game 1. Boston manager John Farrell said he won't have Napoli catch, so it's an either/or situation in each game. And Farrell said late Thursday night he's leaning toward Ortiz at first base in Game 3. The slugger didn't play there all season, so it's fair to wonder how confident he will be in tight spots.

Credit Matheny for pulling all the right strings in Game 2, when the outcome turned largely on offensive-first left fielder Jonny Gomes throwing wide to the plate from shallow left field on a Matt Carpenter fly ball in the seventh. A strong throw cuts down pinch-runner Pete Kozma and preserves the 2-1 lead, at least until Beltran comes to the plate, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia whiffed in trying for a swipe tag, and Breslow, backing up the play, airmailed third base in trying to cut down Jay.

Kozma, who had just replaced David Freese, and Jay had just executed a double steal. Matheny also hit the jackpot when he left the left-handed-hitting Daniel Descalso in to face Breslow, who walked him, and in the eighth inning when he had the precocious Martinez face Ortiz, rather than going to lefty Randy Choate.

This is the situation that the Cards had envisioned using Kevin Siegrist in, but Ortiz had homered off him on Wednesday. While Martinez would give up a single to Ortiz, that was damage that his team could live with, especially with him and Rosenthal combining to strike out six of the 11 hitters they faced.

Advantage, Cardinals.

"We're just worried about playing our kind of baseball," Jay said. "That's what we did today. The pitching really set the tone and we got some clutch hitting. We've been through this before. We've had to fight. We know this isn't easy. We know it's the World Series and the two best teams are out there. We just have to keep fighting hard."

He's right. They'll be tested again. But until further notice, it's the Cards who hold the cards.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for

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