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Rolen's homer off Rocket helps Cards win Game 7

ST. LOUIS -- The rollicking sea of red certainly helped.

What really chased Houston and its Rocket were the booming bats
of MVP Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.

Pujols hit a tying double, Rolen followed with a home run and
the St. Louis Cardinals suddenly erupted against Clemens, startling
the Astros 5-2 Thursday night to take Game 7 of the NL Championship
Series.

"It's every little boy's dream. I'm glad to have won the MVP,
but that trophy is going to stay right in this room because
everybody here is MVP," Pujols said.

In the only best-of-seven LCS matchup where the home team won
each time, the Cardinals broke through with two outs in the sixth
inning. Surrounded by a swell of red-clad fans, St. Louis took the
lead in a span of only two pitches.

Jeff Suppan overcame a leadoff home run by Craig Biggio to win
an apparent mismatch against Clemens, helped by a stunning catch
from center fielder Jim Edmonds. The bullpen combined for three
scoreless innings, shutting down Carlos Beltran and Co., with
Jason Isringhausen working the ninth for his third save.

"You know there are so many people depending on this right arm
to get it done," Clemens said. "I really felt good about our
chances tonight. It just didn't work out."

After posting 105 wins and running away with the NL Central, the
Cardinals advanced to their first World Series under manager Tony
La Russa, and first overall since 1987.

Next up, the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 on Saturday night at
Fenway Park. By all accounts it should be a classic -- they also met
in the 1967 and 1946 Series, and St. Louis won both, each time
going the full seven games.

"It's going to be a blast," Edmonds said. "Boston's a great
town. They played so well to beat the Yankees."

Pujols led the way, hitting .500 with four homers and nine RBI.
Overall, the teams combined for 25 home runs, the most in any
postseason series.

Larry Walker singled home an insurance run in the eighth, and
the club sporting the famed birds-on-the-bat logo captured its 16th
pennant. They made it by going 6-0 at home this postseason,
rallying from a 3-2 deficit against the Astros.

"We got every element," Walker said.

For the Astros, it was total disappointment. They have never
reached the World Series since their expansion season of 1962, the
same year Clemens was born.

But the Rocket could not hold an early 2-0 lead in his record
fourth start in a Game 7.

Suppan was 0-4 in head-to-head games against Clemens this year,
including a loss in Game 3. Yet he pitched out of trouble for six
innings, then turned it over to relievers Kiko Calero,
Julian Tavarez and Isringhausen.

When it was over, the teams did not shake hands on the field, as
St. Louis and Los Angeles did at Dodger Stadium after the first
round. La Russa, who had previously been 0-3 in the NLCS, waved
across the diamond at Houston manager Phil Garner.

Garner took over the Astros at the All-Star break and when they
dropped to 56-60 in mid-August, they were tied for seventh place in
the wild-card race. Houston rallied, then beat Atlanta for its
first postseason series victory.

The Cardinals improved to 9-4 in Game 7s, the most such wins in
baseball. They did it against Clemens, who ended a brief retirement
and came back to pitch for his hometown team.

Clemens seemed born for this occasion -- he was born on Aug. 4,
1962, the same day the Houston Colt .45s lost 2-0 at St. Louis. But
at 42, the ace came up empty.

After the game, he did not say whether this was his last game.

"I'll leave that for later," he said.

While Rolen and Pujols did the major damage in the sixth,
Roger Cedeno surely deserved some credit for rattling the Rocket.

Cedeno opened the sixth with a pinch-hit single, his 11th hit in
25 lifetime at-bats against Clemens, and immediately began dancing
off first base. Clemens made three pickoff throws and stepped off
the rubber three times trying to hold Cedeno close.

Cedeno moved up on a bunt, and again his leads attracted
Clemens' attention before the speedster took third on Walker's
groundout. That brought up Pujols, and brought Garner to the mound.

With the count at 1-2, catcher Brad Ausmus again went to visit
Clemens. Pujols lined the next pitch into the left-field corner,
cocking his arm as he eased into second base with a tying double.

The crowd was going crazy by then, and Rolen seized the
opportunity. Clemens tried to throw a first-pitch fastball by
Rolen, and instead the All-Star slugger rocketed it just inside the
left-field foul pole.

While Rolen ran hard around the bases and several Cardinals
spilled out of the dugout to meet him, Clemens could only stare
ahead.

"We faced him last week and he threw a lot of splitters and
sliders, and we knew here he was going to change something -- he was
throwing a lot of heaters," Pujols said.

Biggio picked on Suppan's fourth pitch, hitting a no-doubt drive
to left. At 38, it was the kind of big hit he hoped for much
earlier in his career.

Edmonds prevented a big inning with the type of catch that's
made him a six-time Gold Glove winner. Shaded toward right-center,
he raced back into the left-center alley and made a headlong dive
to rob Ausmus with two runners on. Clods of grass kicked up as
Edmonds' knees hit the ground, and he slid several feet on his
stomach.

"It's probably the hardest I ever ran for a ball. It just faded
into me," Edmonds said.

After taking away a couple of runs, Edmonds was charged with an
error that gave back a run in the third. Beltran walked with one
out, stole second and tagged up on Jeff Bagwell's fly ball.
Edmonds' strong throw and Beltran arrived at third base
simultaneously, and the ball skipped into the dugout.

Edmonds was charged with the error that let Beltran trot home.
It was a tough error, and ended St. Louis' record streak of 12
straight postseason games without a mistake, dating to 2002.

Suppan put down a perfect suicide-squeeze bunt that pulled the
Cardinals to 2-1 in the third.

Game notes
The Cardinals became the first NL Central team to reach the
World Series. It was the only division without an appearance. ...
Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst threw out the first ball. He managed
the Cardinals to the 1967 World Series title against Boston, and
currently is a special assistant.