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Squirrels or not, Game 5 will be just perfect


ST. LOUIS -- So there was this squirrel, running across the field, just as Roy Oswalt was delivering a pitch.

Of course there was.

Then Albert Pujols, on maybe (or maybe not) his last home game as a Cardinal, changed the game with his arm and his instincts.

Of course he did.

And then hometown kid David Freese, who gave up baseball after high school, followed up his two-run double with a two-run home run.

Sure, why not?

What else would you expect from a series where a Cliff Lee can't hold a four-run lead, a series where Ben Francisco becomes a Phillies legend, a series that is now headed for Game 5 after the Cardinals' 5-3 win in Wednesday's Game 4?

"That's what we're here for, entertainment purposes," Lance Berkman said. "I've always said, whether you're really good or really bad, as long as you're entertaining."

At this point, you'd have to say that both of these teams are really good. But you'd also have to say that they're playing a really entertaining series, one that fully deserves the Game 5 now on the schedule for Friday night in Philadelphia.

Only one question: Who's bringing the squirrels?

They're a part of this now, too, enough so that when someone started an @BuschSquirrel account on Twitter, it had over 5,000 followers by the end of the night.

One appeared Tuesday, running to the outfield. Another (the same one?) showed up Wednesday, boldly running in front of Skip Schumaker just as Oswalt was delivering a pitch in the fifth inning.

NLDS: Phillies at Cardinals
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"Unbelievable," Schumaker said. "Perfect timing."

Speaking of which, there was the Pujols play a half-inning later.

The Cardinals led by just a single run at the time, 3-2 on Freese's fourth-inning double. Chase Utley was on first base after a leadoff walk, and Utley was running on the pitch as Hunter Pence grounded to short.

Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal threw to first, and Utley kept going for third.

And that's where Pujols and his instincts came in.

Instead of taking the throw and taking the out, he stepped in front of the bag and fired a perfect throw to Freese, who tagged Utley out at third.

"It takes guts to do something like that," Schumaker said. "First basemen don't do that, let's be honest."

If Pujols simply takes the out at first, the Phillies have the tying run at third with one out, and they're a Ryan Howard sacrifice fly away from tying the game.

If Pujols' throw to third doesn't get Utley, the Phillies have first and third with no one out, and the Cardinals season (and perhaps Pujols' Cardinals career) could have been over by now.

"That's a huge play in the game," Schumaker said. "That should be talked about. That could have been a huge momentum turn right there.

"If it had been me, I wouldn't have [thrown to third], I know that. That's why he's a cut above."

That's why the Cardinals look at Pujols as more than just the game's best hitter.

"That was classic," manager Tony La Russa said. "And that's part of his greatness. He plays the whole game in a great way."

Typically, Pujols played down the difficulty of the play, although he did say that if Utley had stopped between second and third, he felt confident that he could then have gotten an out at second base.

"Whatever it takes," he said. "You just need to know. You don't work on that in spring training."

Whatever it takes could more or less be a Cardinal motto by now. This is a team, after all, that lost Adam Wainwright at the very start of spring training, a team that lost Pujols and Matt Holliday at various points of the season, and a team that trailed the Braves by 10½ games in the wild-card race in the waning days of August.

It's a team that came back against Lee in Game 2, and a team that was behind 2-0 to Oswalt after just five Edwin Jackson pitches on Wednesday night.

"This is kind of how our season's been," said Holliday, finally able to join the lineup for Game 4, after missing the first three games with a finger problem.

The Cardinals are a team conditioned to challenges, but they're also a team that expects to win, maybe every bit as much as the Phillies expect to win.

Even Freese, asked after Wednesday's game if this was a dream moment, quickly responded, "I've been dreaming about the World Series, not the Division Series."

They always believed they could get there, and they still believe, with ace Chris Carpenter ready to go in Game 5.

"We're also facing the best pitcher in the game," Berkman said.

That would be Roy Halladay, the Phillies starter Friday.

One thing's for sure. It should be entertaining.

With or without a squirrel.


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