Clark lights the fuse for Cardinals

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The Independent Online

St Louis Cardinals took a 2-0 lead over the Atlanta Braves in their best-of-five Division Series on Thursday night, while the New York Mets beat San Francisco Giants 5-4 in the other National League play-off.

St Louis Cardinals took a 2-0 lead over the Atlanta Braves in their best-of-five Division Series on Thursday night, while the New York Mets beat San Francisco Giants 5-4 in the other National League play-off.

The Cardinals, who were merciless against the Braves pitcher Greg Maddux in Game One, this time disposed of Tom Glavine, coasting to a 10-4 rout, with Will Clark's three-run home run in the bottom of the first inning the igniting spark.

Mark McGwire put the finishing touches to the win by blasting a home run over centre-field fence off the Braves' relief pitcher Mike Remlinger in the eighth inning.

"Things couldn't be better but I'm worried," the St Louis manager, Tony La Russa, said. "This is too easy. We roughed up Maddux and Glavine on successive days. Even I'm impressed, but Atlanta is the defending NL champions and they could win three straight games."

It was McGwire's first post-season homer since 1992, when he played for Oakland Athletics. The home run master, so beset by injuries that the Cardinals had Clark replace him at first base, received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd at Busch Stadium and came out of the dug-out for a curtain call.

After Maddux was pounded for seven runs in four innings in the Cardinals' 7-5 victory on Tuesday, Atlanta were looking to level the series behind Glavine, who threw 14 scoreless innings in his final two regular-season games to reach 20 wins for the fifth time in his career. But Glavine himself was pounded for seven runs and six hits in 2 1/ 3 innings. It was the first loss for Glavine in six play-off starts.

Maddux and Glavine, both perennial candidates and winners for the Cy Young Award for best pitcher, combined for 40 wins during the season. In two starts in this series, they have yielded 14 runs and 15 hits.

For the Mets, rookie Jay Payton singled in Darryl Hamilton, who had a pinch-hit double, in the top of the 10th inning and John Franco struck out Barry Bonds in the bottom of the frame to save the Mets' 5-4 win after J.T. Snow's dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth had pulled the Giants even at 4-4.

Payton was not the only rookie to sparkle for the Mets as Timoniel Perez, making his first post-season start after playing in Japan last year, collected three hits, including a two-run single in the second that starting pitcher Al Leiter made stand up into the ninth.

When Perez singled and scored on a homer by Edgardo Alfonzo in the ninth, the Mets had a 4-1 lead.

But Snow hit a three-run homer just inside the right-field line in the bottom half of the ninth off closer Armando Benitez, tying the game.

"It was the biggest hit in my life, but it doesn't matter, we lost," said Snow.

In the top of the 10th, Felix Rodriguez retired the first two batters before Hamilton doubled to right-centre. Payton, a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year, lined the next pitch up the middle to score the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the 10th, Benitez gave up a single and Franco came on. Franco then struck out Bonds to end the game.

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