Cardinals advance to NLCS

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals sure looked like the best team in baseball.

St. Louis advanced to the NL championship series for the third time in five years, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 Sunday night to win their first-round playoff 3-1.

Jeff Suppan settled down after a shaky start, Pujols hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off loser Wilson Alvarez in the fourth inning and the Cardinals kept the Dodgers searching for their first postseason series victory since they won the 1988 World Series.

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After Jason Isringhausen struck out Alex Cora to end the game, members of both teams met in the middle of the field and shook hands, and the fans stood and applauded.

"That's the first time I've seen a team doing that to the other ballclub when they were the losing ballclub, and I think that was very special,'' Pujols said.

St. Louis, a major league-best 105-57 during the regular season, starts the NLCS at home Wednesday against the winner of Monday night's fifth game between Atlanta and Houston. The Cardinals are trying to become the first team with the top regular-season record to win the World Series since the 1998 New York Yankees.

Pujols had two hits, a walk and four RBIs drove in four runs. He went 5-of-15 with two homers in the series.

Suppan, who went 10-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 14 road starts this season, allowed two hits in seven innings and also gave himself some unexpected support at the plate - he singled twice in three at-bats after going 4-of-57 during the season.

Braves 6, Astros 5

HOUSTON (AP) - Adam LaRoche hit a tying, three-run homer in the sixth inning and J.D. Drew singled home the go-ahead run in the ninth to help Atlanta tie its best-of-five NL series at two games apiece.

Jaret Wright, the Game 1 loser, starts for the Braves on Monday at Turner Field against 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, who will pitch on three days' rest after starting Game 2.

Roger Clemens, pitching on three days' rest, left after five innings with a 5-2 lead, but the Braves rallied to snap Houston's 19-game home winning streak.

John Smoltz pitched two scoreless innings and got his record 14th postseason win when Jeff Kent grounded into a game-ending double play.

On the verge of its third consecutive first-round loss, Atlanta made its move right after Chad Qualls replaced Clemens. Chipper Jones singled, Andruw Jones doubled with one out and LaRoche homered into the Astros' bullpen in right.

The winning rally began when Russ Springer, who relieved Brad Lidge to start the ninth, hit Rafael Furcal with a pitch with two outs and Furcal stole second. Drew brought him home on a single to right-center.

Craig Biggio hit a three-run homer for Houston.

The game will be televised at 8 p.m. on WVAH-TV 11.