ST. LOUIS -- The story is that Matt Holliday played well on Thursday. Perhaps the better story is that he played at all.
After he led the St. Louis Cardinals to the victory that moved them to within one win of a World Series encore, Holliday said that his mother had undergone surgery for colon cancer Thursday morning, and that she was resting comfortably.
Little wonder, then, that Holliday had long gotten past the slide, the one in which he dislodged and injured Marco Scutaro, the one that branded him the bad guy every time ESPN showed another of its endless replays.
"I don't watch ESPN," Holliday said.
After an ESPN reporter objected, Holliday amended his statement.
"For the most part, until the off-season," he said.
Holliday drove in two runs and scored another in the Cardinals' 8-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants, lifting St. Louis to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
With one more victory in this series, the Cardinals would advance to the World Series. No NL team has won the World Series in consecutive years since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
The Giants must win three consecutive games to knock St. Louis out of the World Series. The Cardinals are well aware the Giants won three consecutive games last week, to knock the Cincinnati Reds out of the playoffs.
"You've got to keep believing, and hope," Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. "Without that, you've got nothing."
Of the last 14 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, two failed to reach the World Series: the Chicago Cubs in 2003, and the Cardinals in 1996.
Adam Wainwright, who was on the disabled list last season and nearly sank the Cardinals in the division series this season, held the Giants to one run over seven innings for his first career postseason victory as a starting pitcher.
The Giants needed the ace that Tim Lincecum used to be. They got the middling starter that he is now, and he got them into the fifth inning. They trailed 4-1 after five innings, 5-1 after six and 6-1 after seven.
Holliday, who had driven in one run against Lincecum in 34 regular-season at-bats, drove in two on Thursday. Yadier Molina drove in two runs as well. Holliday, Molina, Jon Jay and Pete Kozma each had two hits for St. Louis.
Holliday said the media has made far too much of the slide. He has said he wished he had slid sooner, but Scutaro has played both games since then. Holliday extended well wishes to Scutaro by message on Monday, when the incident happened in San Francisco, and in person when the series resumed here Wednesday.
Yet labels stick, and Holliday would have been remembered as the bad guy of this series if he produced no memories beyond the slide. Not that he cared.
"I'm not interested in being remembered a certain way," he said. "I'm interested in playing good baseball and helping my team win."
So he did, and so did Wainwright.
The Cardinals turned to him in Game 5 of the division series against the Washington Nationals, and he dug his team a 6-0 hole. The dramatic St. Louis comeback got him off the hook, and now his postseason will not be remembered by that game.
"I look at that start as one game -- a weird, throw-it-away type of game," Wainwright said.
If the Cardinals win on Friday, they will trigger a wild celebration. If they lose, the team will shower and fly to San Francisco.
"We're coming here packed," infielder David Freese said. "Hopefully, we can unpack."