-- The way things have gone for Scott Rolen the second half of this season, no one could blame him for getting surly.

Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals' top RBI man has dealt with all of his problems, physical and otherwise, with uncommon good humor.

His left knee will likely require offseason surgery for joint irritation. The left calf strain that sidelined him for 16 games in September is still not 100 percent. The 3-for-32 slump was a result of inactivity.

Still, none of it appears to bother him. The evidence: his second big hit of the NLCS, a two-run home run in the fifth inning of Game 2 on Thursday night that put the Cardinals ahead 4-3. The game ended too late to be included in this edition.

After going 0 for 12 in the division series, Rolen said popping champagne corks was enough for him. On Wednesday, he joked that since the Cardinals had started a fresh series he had only been 0 for 2 when his line-drive RBI single tied the score at 4 in the fifth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS.

"Yeah, it was all right getting that hit," Rolen said. "I didn't know we had to go back to the first series and count all of those at-bats."

In similar good humor, Rolen refused to say the slump was over. After all, he struck out in his final at-bat of the Cardinals' 10-7 victory.

"Maybe not, I punched out late," Rolen said. "It could be over, the well done dried up on me. I got my one for the series.

"No, I hope not."

There was similar irreverence for the significance of the Game 1 victory, the Cardinals' first opening victory in an NLCS since 1987 -- also the last time they made it to the World Series.

"Game 1 is pretty big unless you lose it, and then it's not so big," Rolen said. "Since we won it, we'll say it's a big game.

"Of course, Game 2 is a big game. They're all big games -- that's why we're here."

And then there's his first-round consolation prize: six walks. On Wednesday, he also walked and scored ahead of Jim Edmonds's three-run double that capped a crucial six-run sixth that put the Cardinals ahead 10-4.

"The old walk's as good as a hit thing, that comes from the manager," Rolen said. "I felt a hell of a lot better getting that hit."

Teammates hoped the RBI single in Game 1 would get Rolen rolling, and it did after he flied out and struck out his first two at-bats in Game 2. He likely was the NL MVP at the all-star break with a major league-leading 80 RBI, serving as an offensive and defensive catalyst who helped the Cardinals pull away from the NL Central field.

"He's working hard and he got done what needed to be done out there," left fielder Reggie Sanders said. "I think that big hit will get him motivated and in the right direction."

Despite his assorted woes, he hit .300 for the first time and finished with a career-best 124 RBI, one more than late-charging teammate Albert Pujols. He also batted .358 with runners in scoring position, second in the NL behind Barry Bonds.

Since returning from his calf injury on Sept. 28, he's struggled with his timing. But, he's got extra incentive playing in his first NLCS. Rolen missed the 2002 NLCS after separating his shoulder in a base-running collision with Arizona's Alex Cintron.

"We weren't the ones worried about Scott, you guys were," leadoff hitter Tony Womack told reporters. "So, the guy can play and we just go from there."

The Cardinals' other big sticks were big in Game 1. Pujols homered in the first inning of the opener for the second straight series, Larry Walker tripled, doubled and singled and Edmonds's three-run double put the game out of reach.

Edmonds also had been struggling, going 1 for 29 to end the regular season and then 4 for 15 in the division series with nine strikeouts.

"I know Jimmy for sure can carry the whole ballclub when he's right and he's playing with confidence," Game 1 winning pitcher Woody Williams said. "With Scott, I'm sure it's a big load off his shoulders getting that first hit.

"And it came at a great time."

The Cardinals' Scott Rolen belts a two-run homer in the fifth innings against Astros pitcher Chad Harville to put St. Louis ahead, 4-3, in Game 2 of the NLCS last night.