ST. LOUIS - There was no concern on Scott Rolen's face or in his voice. The Cardinals third baseman even joked that teammate Reggie Sanders, at 36, is, well, no spring chicken.
"He's old," Rolen said, smiling.
A few seconds later: "Did I tell you he was old?"
That doesn't sound like someone who at the most important time of the year was struggling through a significant slump. But Rolen, who batted .314 with 34 home runs and 124 RBIs during the season, said he hasn't felt any pressure at the plate because he knows his teammates can pick him up.
Still, after Rolen snapped an 0-for-14 playoff drought with a two-out, run-scoring single in the fifth of Wednesday's Game 1 victory over the Astros, he admitted, "It felt pretty good."
Safer to say he felt pretty great after his two home runs and three RBIs helped St. Louis to Thursday's dramatic 6-4 victory in Game 2.
Especially considering he had taken an uneasy solace in his six walks during an 0-for-12 streak in the division series against the Dodgers.
"The whole "walk's as good as a hit' thing, that's manager's talk," he said.
Rolen, 1-for-16 entering Thursday, has steadfastly refused to use as an excuse a sore calf that late in the season sidelined him for 16 games.
It wasn't an issue in Game 1 as his crisp line-drive single in the fifth inning tied the score at 4 and set up St. Louis' six-run sixth that helped secure a 10-7 victory. And he had no trouble getting up the dugout steps to take a curtain call after his first home run.
"For Scott, it was any day now," Sanders said. "Hopefully, that big hit will be something that gets him headed in the right direction."
"You get a little success and you build some confidence," Rolen said. "You try to have a good approach and you try not to be results oriented. But sometimes you need a little success."
This year has been about Rolen taking his place as one of the game's elite. He has had good seasons, especially in Philadelphia where in 1999 he batted .290 with 31 home runs and 110 RBIs.
But his two-plus seasons in St. Louis have turned him into a team leader.
Sanders made a point of that. Rolen responded with his crack about Sanders' age. Sanders took it for what it was, a gibe from a player who has found a comfort level.
And regained his level swing.