ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Craig Counsell's flair for the dramatic put the Arizona Diamondbacks on the brink of their first playoff series victory.
Counsell's tiebreaking, three-run homer in the seventh inning gave the Diamondbacks a 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and a 2-1 series lead Friday night.
He was a big part of the Florida Marlins' Game 7 victory over Cleveland in the 1997 World Series, tying the game with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly and scoring the winning run in the 11th on Edgar Renteria's hit.
"It's not the World Series, but it was a big hit for us. It was a huge hit for us," Counsell said. "It's one of my top two thrills. I'll give it that."
Counsell's first postseason was in 1997, and that he knew he could do it again.
"I think it just makes it easier when you get to the situation again," Counsell said. "You've had success and you've been there and you've seen what it's like."
The victory eases the pressure on the Diamondbacks' big two of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Manager Bob Brenly was prepared to use Schilling on three days' rest in Game 4 Saturday if the Diamondbacks had lost, and have Johnson ready on short rest for Game 5.
Schilling, who pitched a three-hit shutout in Game 1, will go on normal rest if a fifth game is played Sunday. In Game 4, Albie Lopez (9-19) faces rookie Bud Smith (6-3).
"They know if they don't win, their season's over," said Luis Gonzalez, who homered in the sixth. "If they do win, they've got to go back and see Schilling."
The Cardinals didn't exactly beat up on Miguel Batista, either. Two days after his ninth-inning gaffe allowed St. Louis to score an insurance run in a 4-1 victory in Game 2 victory, Batista allowed two runs and three hits in six innings.
"I just tried to take it like any other game," Batista said. "It's the same game, the same rules, just a different time."
Counsell connected off Mike Matthews, who held left-handed hitters to a .133 average with one homer in 98 at-bats, to put the Diamondbacks ahead 5-2. Renteria homered for the Cardinals in the seventh, but they stranded four runners the last two innings.
Jim Edmonds, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth, flied out to deep center with the bases loaded against Byung-Hyun Kim for the final out in the eighth. The Cardinals threatened again in the ninth when pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson led off with a bunt single, advanced on a wild pitch and Renteria walked.
The rally unraveled when Mike Matheny took a called third strike after failing twice to bunt, and Mark McGwire, who didn't start for the second straight game, pinch hit and grounded into a game-ending double play.
Edmonds hit his fourth homer in his last 11 playoff games, a two-run shot, to put the Cardinals ahead. Edmonds also threw out Mark Grace trying to score from second on Steve Finley's two-out single in the top of the fourth.
Cardinals starter Darryl Kile struck out five straight in the first and second, setting a division series record. But he didn't have a strikeout after that and gave up a sixth-inning homer to Gonzalez, who had been 0-for-10 in the series.
Kile, who allowed two runs, three hits and five walks, was replaced by Matthews following a leadoff walk to Matt Williams in the seventh.
Travis Miller singled with one out and, following a forceout at the plate, pinch-hitter Greg Colbrunn singled to tie it.
Counsell hit only four homers in 458 at-bats during the regular season. But his drive down the line on a 3-1 pitch, with Gonzalez on deck, easily cleared the right-field wall.
"Obviously, when it comes down to this it's more magnified," Matthews said. "That's not the right time to make a bad pitch."
After a single by Gonzalez, La Russa was booed by many in the sellout crowd of 52,273 when he removed Matthews. He was booed again when he walked back to the dugout.
Notes: Tony Orlando, standing in front of the center-field backdrop, led the crowd in singing "God Bless America" in the seventh-inning stretch. ... Gonzalez hit 57 homers in the regular season, 31 on the road. ... The Diamondbacks were 44-37 on the road in the regular season, third-best in the NL. ... Craig Paquette, who replaced McGwire in the sixth slot for the second straight game, was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. He's 1-for-7 with five strikeouts in the series. ... Arizona was 3-for-7 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-15 in the first two games. St. Louis was 1-for-7, dropping to 1-for-20.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.