- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO The smoke from Game2 of the National League Championship Series had barely cleared Thursday night, and already Tony La Russa was trying to come up with a positive slant on the St. Louis Cardinals' 2-0 series deficit to the San Francisco Giants.

"Well, in one sense, it's a perfect setup for us," the Cardinals manager said after his team's 4-1 loss at Busch Stadium. "I mean, it's been a really hard year. This is a hard start. But I know how ready we'll be when we go to San Francisco."

The Cardinals arrived at Pac Bell Park yesterday for their off-day workout, and La Russa's outlook hadn't changed.

"It's always important to paint your situation in a way that there's a positive slant on it so you can think of something good happening," he said. "In this case, it isn't much of a stretch to explain to the guys that it's been hard all year, so this is hard."

The Cardinals certainly have proved baseball's most resilient club. Given everything they've had to overcome over the last six months, an 0-2 deficit to San Francisco shouldn't look like a hopeless cause.

But anyone counting on a dramatic comeback from St. Louis should at least know this: History is not on the Cardinals' side.

Since the league championship series expanded to a best-of-7 format 17 years ago, only two teams have come back after an 0-2 start. In 1985, both the Cardinals and Royals rallied from two games down to reach the World Series, with St. Louis winning the next four against Los Angeles and Kansas City outlasting Toronto in seven games.

But neither of those teams lost the first two games at home as the Cardinals have. No team has come back from such a predicament.

"It's not impossible, especially in a seven-game series," St. Louis first baseman Tino Martinez said. "A five-game series would be tougher. But Game3 is big. It's a swing game for both sides, and if you can get it, you can steal the momentum back and go from there."

Martinez should know. As a member of the New York Yankees, he experienced both ends of the 0-2 spectrum in best-of-5 division series. New York blew its lead against Seattle in 1995 and rallied to beat Oakland in 2001.

Giants manager and former Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker has seen it happen both ways, too, though in the World Series. In 1978, Los Angeles went up 2-0 on the Yankees and then lost four straight. Three years later, the Dodgers returned the favor.

"You are not in the driver's seat until you have four [wins]," Baker said. "You have a lead in this race, but the race isn't over yet. There's potentially five more games left in this series potentially. You have to go out and play. It boils down to pitching."

That means the principal pressure today will fall on the broad left shoulder of 39-year-old St. Louis starter Chuck Finley. The fact that the Cardinals' roller-coaster season comes down to the man who essentially filled the late Darryl Kile's rotation spot carries its own ironies, but Finley wouldn't have it any other way.

Acquired from the Cleveland Indians on July 19, about one month after Kile was found dead in a Chicago hotel room, Finley played a huge role in St. Louis' late-season surge by going 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in 14 starts.

"Since July, we've been pushed against the wall and backed up in certain areas of the game where it felt like we might stumble," he said. "I think this is the time where we've played our best ball."

Down 0-2, St. Louis has to wonder if even its best ball might not be enough.

"The resiliency of this team is incredible," Finley said. "The determination, the respect guys have for one another in the clubhouse, it's tremendous. That's why we are where we are."

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