ST. LOUIS -- Jon Jay was blinded by the light. On the first pitch of the game, Jimmy Rollins ripped a line drive to straightaway center, and Jay, the Cardinals' center fielder, just stood there, frozen by the sun, for one second ... two seconds ... three. By the time his eyes picked up the ball, he had no chance of catching it. It landed over his head and bounced over the wall, a leadoff double.
Two minutes later, Rollins crossed home plate on a triple down the right-field line by Chase Utley. One minute after that, Utley scored on a single by Hunter Pence. Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson had thrown five pitches, and the game was three minutes old, and already the Cardinals --- knowing that a loss would equate with their elimination from the playoffs --- trailed 2-0, due, in part, to the sun, which has been somehow positioned by Tony La Russa this series as a greater enemy to his team than to the Phillies, even though it is the sun. "We've faced Halladay, Lee, Hamels and shadows," Lance Berkman said, of his club's opponents in the series' first three games.
Still, even though the Phillies' lead came quickly, it was very early. "One thing about falling down early is that you've got nine innings to come back," Berkman said. "Nobody was the least bit concerned about it. It was, 'We're down 2-0. Let's go to work.'"
After a first three minutes filled with both disappointment and bad luck, Jackson led the way. On pitches six through 77, Jackson yielded no further runs and just two more hits, through six innings. Jackson has become perhaps baseball's leading mercenary -- he is just 28 years old, but has been traded six times since January 2006, including five in the past 34 months. He thinks that a youth spent in Germany, where his father was a military cook ("I've had a life on the go for a while," he says) might have prepared him for life as an itinerant big leaguer, and his philosophy is simple. "One trade, another trade, they all get to be the same," he says. "You have an opportunity to go out and pitch every five days, that's all you can ask for."
Still, to this point, Jackson has been viewed as a pitcher who is talented enough to be wanted -- but not quite so talented as to be indispensible. His effort for the Cardinals on Wednesday night was, simply, indispensible, and he has made himself a crucial member of a club that Berkman says is starting to have a feel similar to some of his old Astros teams, like the one that made the World Series in 2005. "You almost feel like the team gets boiled down to sort of an iron hardness, where we've been there so many times, everybody knows who can do what and you just go out there and compete," he says. "There's nothing extra. There's no fluff. It's all been boiled down to the essence of team baseball."
On an evening on which the finally-whole heart of the Cardinals' lineup --- Albert Pujols, Berkman and Matt Holliday, who started for the first time in this series --- went a combined 2-for-10, the less heralded members of the team led the club to a 5-3 victory, and to the forcing of a decisive Game 5 on Friday night in Philadelphia. There was the unflappable Jackson --- "It was kind of funny, this is probably the most relaxed I've been all season, and maybe so far one of the biggest games that I've pitched in," he said.
And there was the 28-year-old third baseman David Freese, whose career has to this point been marked by injury and inconsistency but who was on Wednesday the driver-in of four runs, on a two-run fourth inning double and a two-run sixth-inning homer, all against Phillies starter Roy Oswalt. "He's going to be a hellacious winning player," La Russa said of Freese.
What was once assumed by most to be a series that the Phillies would easily win has started to turn hellacious for them, as the Cardinals have proven a cohesive team that can turn anything --- even nature, in the form of the sun and the squirrel that has appeared on the field in each of the past two games in St. Louis --- into a source of motivation and of bonding. Now, the club that snuck into the playoffs on the regular season's final day is a single win away from ending the season of the Phillies, who have been pegged as the club that would represent the National League in the World Series since Dec. 15, the day they signed Cliff Lee. Awaiting them will be Roy Halladay. Of the prospect of facing the Phillies' ace, Berkman said, "That's a tall task, but we're not looking at it like it's an impossible task."
Indeed, St. Louis, which will counter with Chris Carpenter, beat Halladay in Philadelphia just 17 days ago, and scored three first-inning runs against him in Game 1. "We've seen each other so much that maybe we will go to bed and have dreams about them, their starting pitchers and their 'pen," said Pujols. If the Cards continue to get such significant contributions from not only their stars, but from role players like Jackson and Freese, then their dreams for this season might shockingly persist, while the Phillies will dream no more.