By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - The Cardinals went from a team beginning to wobble on the ropes to an optimistic outfit looking to turn home field advantage into a knockout punch as the World Series shifts to St. Louis.
With the best-of-seven series tied 1-1, the Fall Classic has turned into a best-of-five with the next three games in the Gateway City, starting with Game Three on Saturday.
"I don't think there's one thing that would make our team any more effective in this park than any other," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny told reporters at Busch Stadium on Friday when asked why his team has thrived at home.
"There's just that comfort of being at home. And you have your home fans behind you. It's going to be an exciting atmosphere. Tomorrow it's going to be loud and the guys thrive on that."
A two-run homer by David Ortiz in the sixth inning on Thursday looked to put the Cards in precarious position trailing the Boston Red Sox 2-1 in Game Two, before a three-run rally in the seventh led to a 4-2 St. Louis win that evened the series.
"Being down 0-2, statistically I'm sure that's a tough feat to come back from," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "But 1-1 is going to feel good."
Freese was right. Visiting teams that dropped the first two games of a World Series have ended up winning the Major League Baseball title only seven times in 37 chances.
The Cardinals were 54-27 at home this season and since the club moved into the new Busch Stadium eight years ago they have amassed the most home-wins in the National League.
They have hit and pitched better on their home turf. St. Louis pitchers have an earned run average of 3.10 at home versus a 3.77 mark on the road. Cardinals batters have hit .274 at home as compared to .264 on the road.
Since late September, the Cards have gone 12-1 at Busch Stadium, including a 5-1 record in front of their red-clad supporters during the postseason.
"We definitely like to play at home," outfielder Jon Jay said. "It's a comfort level. You have your fans and you're familiar with your routine."
Boston had grown accustomed to sailing through their recent trips to the World Series.
After sweeping St. Louis in four games in 2004 for their first Fall Classic crown in 86 years, they repeated the feat with a sweep of Colorado in 2007 and stretched their World Series win streak to nine games with an 8-1 romp in Game One.
"We've got to go out there and play better than we did tonight," said Ortiz. "Nobody can dictate that you're going to win four straight games every time you go out there for the World Series."
With no designated hitter used in games played in the National League park, the Red Sox will be choosing between Ortiz and Mike Napoli, their two biggest sluggers, to play first base.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, heaved a sigh of relief when postseason standout Carlos Beltran was able to return to the lineup for Game Two after bruising his ribs while banging into the right-field wall to rob Ortiz of a grand slam in the opener.
The 36-year-old Beltran took a pain-killing shot in order to get back on the field and delivered an RBI-single for the last St. Louis run in Thursday's win at Fenway Park.
"Somebody would have to kill me in order for me to get out of the lineup," said Beltran, who is playing in his first World Series.
The Cardinals are starting Joe Kelly (10-5) in Game Three against Boston's Jake Peavy (12-5), with Lance Lynn (15-10) slated for St. Louis on Sunday against Clay Buchholz (12-1), who has complained of some discomfort in his right shoulder.
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)