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St. Louis Holding All the Aces

National League: Cardinals defeat the Diamondbacks, 2-1, for a 2-0 lead. Rolen is injured, out for series.


PHOENIX — Down goes Johnson. Down goes Schilling.

And, barring a prolonged reversal of fortune that would be as shocking as the ninth inning of the 2001 World Series, down goes baseball's defending champion.

By winning games started by heavyweights Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the St. Louis Cardinals have taken the toughest steps toward advancing to the National League championship series.

Miguel Cairo's ninth-inning single off Arizona reliever Mike Koplove on Thursday sent the Cardinals home with a 2-1 victory and a two games-to-none lead in the National League division series.

St. Louis needs to win one of the next three games to play for a pennant against either San Francisco or Atlanta.

"Coming out of here 2-0 looks very, very good," said Cardinal left-hander Chuck Finley, who outpitched Schilling. "This was what we dreamed about doing coming into here."

This is a nightmare scenario for the Diamondbacks.

Miguel Batista faces the Cardinals' Andy Benes Saturday at Busch Stadium. Johnson then would face ace Matt Morris in Game 4 with Schilling set to work on three days' rest in Game 5, if Arizona lasts that long.

"It's tough, no question," Schilling said. "We got outplayed though. Certainly we didn't expect to leave here down 2-0.... We're going to have to find a way to come out and get a game and get Randy back on the mound and go from there."

It was an expensive victory for St. Louis. The Cardinals lost third baseman Scott Rolen for the rest of the series and possibly the postseason after pinch runner Alex Cintron smashed into him while he was trying to field a seventh-inning grounder.

Rolen was diagnosed with a sprained left shoulder, the severity of which an exam will determine today. Manager Tony La Russa won't ask for sympathy from Arizona Manager Bob Brenly. The Diamondbacks are without left fielder Luis Gonzalez, right fielder Danny Bautista and infielder Craig Counsell, all of whom were heroes last October.

Arizona led the National League in runs scored during the regular season but managed only three in the first two games of this series. Brenly has exacerbated his shortage of hitters by failing to get even one at-bat in the first two games for Erubiel Durazo, who hit cleanup in the World Series.

Many wonder if Brenly somehow is punishing the first baseman for declining to move to the outfield when the Diamondbacks learned they would be without both corner outfielders. Greg Colbrunn and Mark Grace have gotten starts at first base with Quinton McCracken playing right and David Dellucci and Mark Little sharing left.

Arizona's only run Thursday was the result of Albert Pujols booting the first ball hit to him after he moved from left field to third to replace Rolen. The Diamondbacks put two on with two out after tying the score 1-1 in the eighth inning but Grace, not Durazo, got the call to pinch hit for Little.

"We were saving Durazo for a later spot in the inning, if it got to that," Brenly said. "Let's just put it that way."

St. Louis, which had shocked Johnson with 10 hits in six innings en route to a 12-2 victory on Tuesday, had seven hits in seven innings against Schilling. The biggest was J.D. Drew's opposite-field homer in the third inning.

With Brenly failing to use closer Byung-Hyun Kim to protect a tie, the Cardinals pushed across a ninth-inning run with a Whitey Herzog-style rally.

Edgar Renteria led off with a single off Koplove and Mike Matheny bunted him to second. Cairo, pinch-hitting for reliever Jeff Fassero, drove the first pitch he saw past Koplove and into center field.

This marked the third time in 2 1/2 seasons that Arizona has lost games when Johnson and Schilling started consecutive games.

They have done that 26 times this season; the Diamondbacks won both games 14 times and at least one 11 others.

"When you stop and think about it now, you faced those two guys," La Russa said. "I mean, nobody respects Randy and Curt more than the St. Louis Cardinals. We competed against them. We ended up, when the day was over, to have two wins.

"Yeah, it adds something to it. [But] the wins are what you look for."

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