Cardinals trail, but tight NLCS was to be expected

Sunday, October 16, 2005

For Cardinals fans who might be worried that their beloved team is now down 2-1 in the National League Championship Series, I have one thing to say.

What, you expected things to be easy?

Sure, the Astros have somewhat taken control with two straight wins, but the best-of-7 series is far from over.

After St. Louis received a stellar start from Chris Carpenter in the opener, Houston got just the same from Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens, the latter paving the way for Saturday's 4-3 triumph.

Based on the pitching matchups, nothing that has happened so far is surprising.

The Cardinals figured to have an edge with Carpenter -- although Andy Pettitte was on quite a roll -- and that turned out to be true.

Game 2, pitting Oswalt against Mark Mulder, probably rated as something of a tossup, and Mulder kept the Cardinals close before their bullpen faltered late.

Saturday's third game, the first of three straight in Houston, appeared to solidly favor the Astros, what with the legendary Clemens going up against the up-and-down Matt Morris. Form held true in that one.

Which brings us to today's fourth game, matching the Cardinals' Jeff Suppan against the Astros' Brandon Backe. Suppan was hot down the stretch while Backe was mediocre most of the season, so you've got to figure St. Louis has a solid chance to even up the series.

Of course, it would certainly help the Cardinals' cause if they could get their offense going, although with these kinds of pitchers, runs figured to be at a premium in this series.

And, given the way Houston closer Brad Lidge has dominated the Cardinals -- although they did finally score a run off him Saturday -- it would aid the Redbirds if they could at least be tied entering the late innings, which is a lot easier said than done.

The bottom line is that so far the series has been a very good one, just as most people expected. The teams went the full seven games to decide last year's NLCS, and when this battle started, I told plenty of people that it would surprise me if the Cardinals and Astros didn't go the distance again.

So far I have seen nothing to change my mind, although if the Cardinals lose today, I might have to change my mind in a hurry.


If you were lucky enough to spend Saturday plopped on your couch with remote in hand -- unfortunately, I had to work -- then you must have been in sports fan heaven.

In addition to the NLCS and ALCS baseball games, there were fantastic finishes to college football games galore.

Taking center stage had to be top-ranked USC's near-miraculous escape at Notre Dame, as the Trojans -- after some weird late happenings -- scored with 3 seconds left to prevail 34-31.

Not far behind was Michigan throwing a touchdown pass on the final play to hand Penn State its first loss, 27-25.

There were several other games decided in the final seconds -- but when all was said and done, USC had extended its winning streak to an amazing 28 in a row.

No matter what the situation, the superbly talented Trojans just seem to get the job done, whether they're blowing teams out from the start, coming back early in the second half or winning at the very end.

There is still plenty of the season left, but with No. 2 Texas steamrolling all of its opponents so far, we could be heading toward the national championship matchup I would love to see between the Trojans and Longhorns.

We'll see how it all plays out.


While major college football had a sensational Saturday, the Ohio Valley Conference had a pretty interesting day of its own.

After Eastern Kentucky won at two-time defending champion Jacksonville State earlier this year, most people figured the Colonels would roll to the title.

But host Eastern Illinois, taking advantage of some early turnovers, routed the Colonels 53-22 and moved into first place. They are now the league's only team without a conference loss.

On the other end of the spectrum, Murray State was supposed to challenge for the title, but the Racers are still without an OVC win after losing at Samford 27-23.

And surprising Tennessee-Martin finally came back down to earth, falling at Jacksonville State 37-17 for its first league loss.

The OVC has been unpredictable so far and it's likely to stay that way. I wouldn't be surprised if two teams finish tied for the crown -- and maybe even three.


Southeast's football team, which had its bye week, figures to be met by an angry bunch of Colonels when the struggling Redhawks resume OVC play Saturday at Eastern Kentucky.

The Redhawks have beaten Eastern Kentucky two straight times in Richmond, Ky. -- where visiting teams almost never win -- and they'll have their work cut out for them as they seek their first victory of the season.

But, for Southeast fans in search of a silver lining during what has been a dismal year, this is it: After playing at Eastern Kentucky, the Redhawks finish up primarily against teams in the lower portion of the conference standings.


Missouri's football team has not exactly beaten any powerhouse opponents so far, but in the mediocre Big 12 Conference North Division, there doesn't seem to be any reason why the Tigers can't contend.

And for sheer improbability, it would be hard to top MU's 27-24 overtime victory over Iowa State Saturday.

The Tigers trailed by 10 points in the closing minutes, and star quarterback Brad Smith was on the bench with an injury.

But true freshman Chase Daniel led the Tigers to 10 late points, forcing overtime, before MU prevailed.


Major congratulations are in order for the Notre Dame High School softball team, which reached the Class 3 final four for the second straight season thanks to Saturday's 2-0 win over Sullivan.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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