It's simply a best-of-three at this point. A classic three-game series that just happens to take place in two different cities. For the Cards, Game 5 is as close to a must-win without actually being an elimination game as they'll ever encounter.
"If we go into New York having to win two games, not that it can't be done and we'll do everything we can to do that, but it puts our back against the wall," said third baseman Scott Rolen.
"We saw in '04 [in the NLCS] when we took two games from Houston here at home, they went home and won all three of their games. That's the possibility. You're supposed to win your home games. To go to New York needing to win one instead of two is huge, would be a big lift for us. It doesn't mean it's the end of the world, but it's definitely a big game."
Having to play such a critical game on Monday night could have put the Cardinals in a dicey situation. Both St. Louis starter Jeff Weaver and New York's Tom Glavine would have been pitching on three days' rest. The Cardinals believed that Weaver was their best choice to go on short rest if anyone needed to -- not that he won't happily take the extra day.
The difference is that the Mets bullpen didn't have to work all that hard on Sunday. So while both starters likely would have been on short leashes, the Mets would have had more to call on in the event of early departures.
Manager Tony La Russa argued that he won't necessarily have any more resources to call on. The number of available relievers likely will be the same. However, the effectiveness of all those relievers could get a real boost from one more recovery day.
"Both left-handers [Tyler Johnson and Randy Flores] could have pitched," the skipper said. "We had [Josh] Kinney, we had [Adam] Wainwright. The only guy out would have been [Braden] Looper and I'm not sure how available he'll be [Tuesday]. So we'll be in the same shape."
The difference, though, is relevant. Johnson threw 19 pitches on Sunday, so while he would have been available, he might have been limited. Josh Hancock threw 21 and might have been something of a push. Now the whole unit will be set up for its best possible deployment.
Considering the value that the St. Louis bullpen has had in this postseason -- Sunday night's struggles notwithstanding -- that could be a big edge.
"They really took full advantage of our bullpen last night," said shortstop David Eckstein. "With as many pitchers as we used and as many pitches as they threw, it definitely gives us the extra day to get everybody healthy and fresh for [Tuesday]. Playing four straight days in the playoffs can definitely wear on a bullpen. Especially with what happened [Sunday]. It might be a good thing for the guys."
The downside? After being touched for 10 runs on Sunday, the Cards' relievers wanted to get out there and get the bad taste out of their mouths. Johnson in particular sounded like he would have liked to pitch a second game on Sunday night rather than waiting until Monday -- never mind Tuesday.
"The day off, physically, is nice," he said. "But whether we had one or not, I'm able to go two or three in a row or whatever it may take. So it doesn't matter to me and I know [the rest of] the bullpen is the same way. Every one of those guys has heart and is a fighter and a competitor."