Cards' 2-1 win puts champs on the ropes

But St. Louis star Rolen injures his left shoulder

Arizona thrown in 0-2 hole

Injury latest misfortune in rough season for Cards

Division Series

October 04, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - The St. Louis Cardinals should have been full of themselves after sweeping the first two games of their National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but it just hasn't been that kind of year.

They outlasted 23-game winner Curt Schilling in Game 2 and pushed the defending world champions to the brink of elimination with a 2-1 victory yesterday at Bank One Ballpark.

Then, as it has been throughout a season of off-field tragedy and on-field adversity, the Cardinals found themselves faced with another major setback.

Third baseman Scott Rolen suffered an injury to his left shoulder late in the game that could knock him out of the postseason. He was blindsided by base runner Alex Cintron in the seventh inning and left the field with a member of the Cardinals' medical staff supporting his left arm.

"I think there is a chance that he might have played his last game," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

The injury was listed as a sprained shoulder. Rolen underwent X-rays during the game, but more conclusive tests will have to be performed today after the Cardinals return to St. Louis. Even in a best-case scenario, club officials consider him doubtful for the rest of the Division Series.

What a loss. Rolen gave the Cardinals a huge lift after he came over in a midseason trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, and his long-term presence on the team was secured last week when he agreed to an eight-year, $90 million contract extension. He beefed up an already potent St. Louis lineup and was swinging the bat very well in the first postseason series of his career.

"I'm kind of out there," La Russa said after the game. "I have a warm feeling about the way we played today, but I'm sick to my stomach about Scott. The news probably isn't too good."

Cardinals left-hander Chuck Finley pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings to out-duel Schilling, but he left the game when his pitching hand cramped up in the seventh. He attributed the muscle spasm near his thumb to fatigue and appeared confident that he would be able to make his next start.

Schilling allowed only a bases-empty home run to J.D. Drew in a strong seven-inning performance before leaving for a pinch hitter. The Diamondbacks came back to tie the score in the eighth on a long RBI double by Quinton McCracken, but the Cardinals won the game on a run-scoring single by utilityman Miguel Cairo in the top of the ninth.

Who could have predicted that the Cardinals would go on the road to face the two winningest pitchers in the major leagues - Randy Johnson and Schilling combined to win 47 games this year - and head home with a chance to wrap up the first round tomorrow at Busch Stadium?

"It's tough," Schilling said. "We got outplayed. We certainly didn't expect to leave here down 2-0, but it is what it is. We have to find a way to right the ship."

Indeed, with the Diamondbacks boasting the two leading candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, who could have expected that their ability to defend their 2001 world title would come to rest on the Game 3 performance of sub-.500 pitcher Miguel Batista (8-9)?

"It's probably the understatement of the season that our work is cut out for us now," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said.

It is not, however, a hopeless situation, since the extra day off in Arizona allows both Johnson and Schilling to come back in the best-of-five series if Batista can come up with a clutch performance against substitute Cardinals starter Andy Benes.

The Diamondbacks survived three elimination games on their way to the world championship last year. This time, they will need to survive three in the first round to get to the NL Championship Series.

"There are no pep talks," Brenly said. "There are no magic words that are going to suddenly make everything OK. You just keep grinding. You keep playing the game. You keep doing the things you've been successful doing and hope for the best."

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