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Immediacy proves crucial for Cardinals

Immediacy proves crucial for Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- The billboard across Busch Stadium declares, "Welcome to Baseball Heaven," and the Red Army of Cardinal Nation didn't want to be kept waiting at the pearly gates.

They weren't. Deliverance was almost immediately theirs Saturday night -- as it had to be if these Cardinals were to take a forceful step ahead in the National League Championship Series.

They couldn't humor Steve Trachsel, an average starter dispensing below-average stuff. When they had him down, they had to take him out.

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And the Cardinals did, doing all of their damage early and quickly for a 5-0 win.

Of course, another reason the Cards had to do it early was because Darren Oliver owned them late.

More a little later on the subtle heroism of Oliver, who, if the Mets are to get back in this series, will have been responsible for yanking them back off the ledge.

For now, let us just point out the post-Game 3 irony of people trying to weave a link between the conclusion of Friday's game and the outset of Saturday's.

You know, the ol' carryover effect.

"I've played enough to know that you come out and focus on that particular day. We don't think about what happened the day before," said Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein.

Good answer, David. Because if we are to subscribe to carryovers, the Cardinals may as well not even show up for Sunday night's Game 4, after kowtowing to the shutout relief pitching of Oliver and Roberto Hernandez for the last seven innings of Game 3.

Sadly for the New Yorkers, by the time Oliver appeared, Trachsel had dug a hole nearly as profound as the one beyond new Busch Stadium's left field, where old Busch Stadium had stood.

Preston Wilson had bounced a single off Trachsel's right thigh in the second inning, and Trachsel then walked Albert Pujols on four pitches to load the bases. Mets manager Willie Randolph and trainer Ray Ramirez made a belated injury visit to Trachsel and -- while those in the Cards dugout perhaps hoped otherwise -- took him with them.

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The Cardinals unloaded the bases with Oliver on the mound, completing a job they absolutely had to finish -- both to take a lead in the series, and to not disappoint, or even quiet down, their fans.

It was party time at Busch, and the Mets had to be served up as party favors.

Here, wearing the team color isn't a choice, but an obligation. Everyone was dressed in red. Well, except for the one guy wearing pink ... but he must've walked through a sprinkler on his way to the park.

And so the Cardinals kept knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door, breaking it down on a two-run triple by their own guardian angel, Scott Spiezio.

The opening gust was about it, but the storm's traces remained, giving St. Louis about as wide a 2-1 lead as possible. Sunday, young lefty Oliver Perez will be fed to the Red Horde, and though the Cards will be countering with their own rookie right-hander, at least Anthony Reyes will hear cheers.

"They came out, the crowd was loud, and they fed off the energy," Randolph said of the game's beginning. "They just came out of the chute and got on the board real quick; they came out and took it to us early."

"We have to take full advantage of every opportunity, and we did a good job of that tonight," Eckstein said. "We had a chance to score some runs, and we had to cash them in."

Ka-ching!

"We just knew that we had a good chance with Supp out there," Spiezio said of Jeff Suppan, who pitched, hit and fielded -- sorry, but he got someone else to drag the infield -- through eight-ninths of the victory. "He's been so steady for us all year, and we just wanted to jump out and get some runs on the board."

As far as guardian angels go, Spiezio is beginning to rank up there with Clarence, the one who kept looking over James Stewart's shoulder in "It's A Wonderful Life."

Spiezio doesn't take a day off, either. Or an inning. There he was in the seventh inning on Friday in New York, tying the score with a two-run triple. Here he was in the first inning, jump-starting the Cardinals with a two-run triple.

"People see that and will go, 'What's up with all the triples?'" smiled Spiezio, whose special talent is the guitar, not speed. "They didn't see the entire plays; people had to fall down."

Several people nearly fell down after the game, seeing Spiezio, out of the corners of their eyes, in front of a mirror, shaving his ... chin?! Egad, what will all those fans do with the newest St. Louis accoutrement, that red soul patch?

But -- whew -- Spiezio shaved around his trademark mini-sized beard.

With five RBIs in his last three at-bats, the son of former Cardinals infielder Ed Spiezio reiterated the story about all the make-believe backyard afternoons having prepared him for these real-thing moments.

"I always felt like, if I ever did make it to the playoffs, I simply wouldn't put too much pressure on myself," Scott Spiezio said. "Was I as successful in the backyard?

"Maybe not ... but it did help me prepare for it."

As far as that carryover thing, his and his team's, Spiezio shrugged. "We just try to get good at-bats. We don't get too emotional. Get runners on, get runners in."

That's pretty simple. Certainly not as confusing as the switch pulled on us by the Mets starter, who went one-plus inning, and reliever, who went six.

But it was that kind of a night. Steven Tyler, the Aerosmith dude, and Master Sergeant Steve Thulon took turns at the mike during the seventh-inning stretch. And here's the twist: Tyler sang "God Bless America," while the sergeant did "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Those are the moments one remembers. Spiezio will hit more triples. Wilson will throw more 255-foot strikes. Even Suppan will hit more home runs. But Tyler belting patriotic songs while a uniformed military man plays an air guitar next to him ... Heaven, period.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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