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Cardinals better take advantage of last opportunity for home-cooking

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

Joe Flacco (USATSI)
The Cards don't want to go back to Fenway trailing 3-2. (USATSI)

ST. LOUIS -- Talk about compelling World Series matchups. Holy Jack Buck. Game 5 here Monday night, the Cardinals will battle Jon Lester and, of course, serious weirdness.

In a World Series getting stranger by the inning, the Cardinals went to bed Sunday night with memories of Kolten Wong removing the bat from Carlos Beltran's hands in the first-ever Fall Classic walk-off pickoff. That'll ruffle a bird's feathers, all right. But they will awaken Monday morning for one more hurrah at the best thing they have going: Busch Stadium, their own blinged-out birdcage.

The Cardinals, including the postseason, are 60-29 at Busch Stadium in 2013. They've played their best home baseball this summer since Billy Southworth's post-Gashouse Gang Cardinals of 1944.

As if that isn't sparkling enough, they've really been something lately: 27-7 at home since Aug. 11, and 19-4 since Sept. 6.

So to your list of wacked-out World Series moments this fall, make sure to scribble down Boston's 4-2 triumph in Game 4.

Yeah, Game 3 ending on an obstruction call was weird and Game 4 finishing on the pickoff was bizarre. But the way things have been going here, with most visitors playing the part of a newspaper lining the bottom of a birdcage, an opponent walking away with a win is truly kooky.

Which is why Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester in a Monday Night Special puts the Cardinals as close as can be to a must-win situation.

"Adam always is on a mission, regardless," Cards third baseman David Freese said. "That's what makes him great. And they've got Lester going, so here we go again."

The Cardinals cannot go back to Boston trailing 3 games to 2. That's World Series roulette. History says so: Of the previous 42 times that a World Series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win 27 times (64.3 percent).

Plus, of the various routes that could carry the Cardinals to a title, losing two games started by Wainwright is nowhere to be found.

And as you'll recall, Wainwright was hammered for five runs (three earned) and six hits in only five innings during St. Louis' 8-1 Game 1 waxing.

"I honestly don't know why my mechanics were as bad as they were, why my delivery was off as much as it was," Wainwright said during a loose and lively pregame session with the media Sunday.

He is satisfied that it is fixed. He is confident in his adjustments.

Now, the Cardinals must go knock the seams off the baseball and the giant booger -- or whatever that Game 1 green stuff was -- out of Lester's glove.

Of all the dazzling baseball the Cardinals have played at home this season, there is no question that the final home game they will play in 2013 is the biggest.

"Absolutely," Freese said. "No doubt. It could put us one win away from winning a world championship.

"We've got to come out and win that ballgame."

The greedy among the Cardinals were thinking for a time that maybe Game 5 could turn into a clincher, especially following their dramatic Game 3 victory. Given everything that was coming out of Boston's camp regarding Game 4 starter Clay Buchholz, what Sunday night's game mostly was for St. Louis was a missed opportunity.

The bar was set so low for Buchholz, it seemed the Red Sox would have considered it a success if he simply arrived at the mound to start the game with his cleats on the right feet.

Buchholz sighed before the game that he wasn't 100 percent (if he was a Winnie the Pooh character, he would be Eeyore). Manager John Farrell had waited until the last possible second to list where and when Buchholz would be starting.

Yet the Cardinals only went 1 for 4 with runners in scoring position during Buchholz's brief four-inning outing, leaving five runners aboard during that time.

"He went out there and battled his butt off," Cards first baseman Matt Adams said. "He had pretty good stuff tonight."

Well, the first part of that was true. The second? What Buchholz lacked in stuff, he had in location.

Now comes the Game 1 rematch. As Freese said, here we go again.

"They have their horse on the mound, and we have our horse on the mound," Beltran said.

Giddyup.

"Things happen in baseball," Beltran continued not long after Wong explained his gaffe while fighting back tears. "Sometimes, you wish things would have been different -- yesterday for them, today for us."

Before the game, someone asked Wainwright about the potential that he might be starting a World Series-clinching game on Monday.

After Game 4, all of those thoughts were out the window.

Though the way this one ended clearly knocked them off balance, the Cardinals feel awfully good about the 1-2 punch of Busch Stadium and Wainwright.

"Adam knows how to approach hitters with the best of them," Freese said. "And he can make adjustments."

Now, the Cardinals get one more chance before their sea of red-clad fans. One more chance to face a weakened Red Sox lineup with either David Ortiz or, more likely, Mike Napoli out before they go back to full strength later this week at Fenway Park.

Either way, they know they're going back to Boston.

But it's going to be much better for them if they step into Fenway for Game 6 up 3-2 instead of down 3-2.

"I like Boston. I get to get a little tasty burger in me again," Freese quipped.

Mmm hmm, weird or not, we're into the meat of this thing now. Close your eyes, and listen to the sizzle.

 
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