HOUSTON -- He arrived at Minute Maid Park on Monday night and was told that it was the 45th anniversary of the day Houston's National League baseball franchise was founded. Hours later, he was in his box seat two rows behind the batting screen with the Astros one pitch away from winning their first pennant.

It wasn't to be, but Drayton McLane, the team's chairman and chief executive, remains undaunted. There are two games to be played this week at Busch Stadium and his Astros still have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series that is scheduled to resume with Game 6 on Wednesday night.

"I'm feeling disappointed," said McLane, after Albert Pujols hit a three-run, ninth-inning homer off Brad Lidge to keep the Cardinals alive with a stunning 5-4 win. "But I'm resilient. I'm ready to go again. This time last year, we were elated. We were up, 3-2. Jeff Kent had just hit a game-winning home run.

"This is going to be a test of character right here. And we've got two of the best pitchers in baseball coming up. So we're ready to go."

Last year, almost to the day (Oct. 18), Kent hit a walk-off, three-run homer against Cards closer Jason Isringhausen to snap a scoreless tie and give the Astros a 3-0 victory. They trailed that series 2-0 coming home to Houston and swept the three games at Minute Maid Park.

Lined up with Pete Munro and Roger Clemens to pitch the final games in St. Louis, the Astros didn't survive, losing Game 6, 6-4, in 12 innings and Game 7, 5-2.

This time, the Astros have Roy Oswalt and Clemens slated to go against Mark Mulder and Matt Morris at Busch Stadium. This time, David Eckstein was standing at home plate with nobody on in the ninth, two out and Lidge holding a 1-2 count. Eckstein punched a single in the hole between third base and shortstop, and the rest is baseball history.

McLane -- like the 43,045 towel-waving, ThunderStixx clapping patrons in the six-year-old downtown ballpark with the sliding roof -- went from a moment of elation to a moment of misery.

"It's never over until you get them all out," said McLane, who is just finishing his 13th season at the helm of the organization. "I've learned that. And he [Pujols] is a tough, tough batter. We fight him all the way. That's one of the breaks that occur, but I'd bet my money on Brad Lidge every time.

"I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine. It hurt for about a minute, but we have the lead. We're in charge. This is what baseball really is all about, and it's going to make it more meaningful when we do win this series."

Just to prove that his optimism was no mirage, McLane walked around the clubhouse and chatted with players. He gave Phil Garner a hug and told the manager that the Astros would close the deal later this week in St. Louis.

"There's no doubt," McLane said. "We've got Roy Oswalt, who I think is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. I have all the confidence in the world in him. Our guys are really going to fight back from this."