Astros get even with Cards

Friday, October 14, 2005
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, left, tags out Houston Astros runner Willy Taveras trying to steal second in the third inning.

Oswalt hurled Houston to a 4-1 victory to even the series at a game apiece.

ST. LOUIS -- Yes, it is possible to win on the road in the NL championship series. Roy Oswalt showed the way for Houston, silencing the St. Louis Cardinals and all their red-clad fans.

Oswalt pitched seven stellar innings, Chris Burke kept up his unlikely postseason hitting and the Astros defeated the Cardinals 4-1 Thursday night, evening the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

Houston scrounged for a couple of runs off Mark Mulder -- one scoring on a passed ball, the other on Craig Biggio's groundout. The Astros added two more in the eighth off reliever Julian Tavares.

Burke, hero of the division series, came through again in his first postseason start by scoring two runs and driving in another with a two-out single in the eighth -- ending Houston's 0-for-14 drought with runners in scoring position.

"Well, I was hardly the hero tonight," said Burke, now 5-for-8 with two homers and four RBIs in the postseason. "Roy was great -- seven innings pitched and one run. He bailed us out quite a few times. Luckily, I was able to get a couple knocks."

Brad Lidge came on for a two-inning save, closing out the six-hitter with three strikeouts.

Oswalt allowed only five hits, struck out six and didn't let a runner past second base except for Albert Pujols, who led off the sixth with a 438-foot home run that cleared the Houston bullpen.

Otherwise, Oswalt made every big pitch he needed, improving his career postseason record to 3-0.

The Cardinals went 0-for-6 against the right-hander with runners in scoring position. Oswalt twice faced Jim Edmonds with two runners on -- and came out on top both times against the dangerous left-handed hitter.

"Take your hat off to him," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "He never put the ball over the middle of the plate when we had a chance to hurt him."

In the fifth, Edmonds took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch. Two innings later, the crowd of 52,358 -- nearly all of them adorned in red -- was in an uproar after the Cardinals put runners at first and second with only one out.

But Oswalt retired David Eckstein with a fly ball to center, then got Edmonds on a grounder to first -- the last of the starter's 108 pitches. Oswalt covered on the play, pumping his fist after he took the flip from Lance Berkman.

"That's not typical," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "That's about the most you'll get out of Roy."

The Central Division rivals are meeting in the NLCS for the second year in a row, and their first eight games all went to the home team.

The 2004 series went the distance, with St. Louis advancing to the World Series by winning four games at Busch Stadium. The streak continued with the Cardinals winning 5-3 in Game 1 Wednesday.

Now, St. Louis has to win at least one game in Texas -- something it couldn't do last year -- to bring the series back to soon-to-be demolished Busch.

The next three games are in Houston, beginning with Saturday's contest matching Roger Clemens of the Astros against St. Louis' Matt Morris.

"We're definitely pleased to take one game here and take the momentum," Burke said. "We're excited to get home to our fans and that place will be rocking."

Burke's run-scoring single gave the Astros a 3-1 lead, and he came all the way around to score when Adam Everett tripled off the glove of left-fielder Reggie Sanders.

Sanders, the Cardinals' hottest postseason hitter with 12 RBIs, fell awkwardly on the warning track and left the game with a sprained lower back.

"The doctor said it was like a train wreck," La Russa said. "He didn't break anything, but he was bruised all over."

The Cardinals fell behind for the first time in the playoffs when Houston pushed an unearned run across in the second.

Burke, who had an 18th-inning homer to clinch an opening-round victory over Atlanta and a pinch-hit homer in Game 1 against St. Louis, started in this one and kept up his torrid hitting. He tripled to the gap in the second, barely beating Mark Grudzielanek's relay throw. Mulder retired Everett on a grounder back to the mound, then walked Brad Ausmus intentionally to get to the weak-hitting Oswalt.

On a 2-0 count, Ausmus took off for second on an attempted steal, which appeared to distract catcher Yadier Molina. He let an inside fastball deflect off his glove for a passed ball, and Burke trotted home with the first run of the game.

In its first four postseason games, St. Louis outscored San Diego and Houston 16-0 through the first four innings.

The Astros made it 2-0 in the fifth. Ausmus doubled to the wall, Oswalt got down a sacrifice bunt and Biggio hit a grounder to short with the infield back to drive in the run.

The Cardinals put two runners on against Oswalt in the first to bring up Sanders, whose two-run homer sparked a 5-3 victory in the opener. This time, he ended the threat by grounding out to third.

Edmonds atoned a bit for his offensive shortcomings with a brilliant defensive play in the sixth. Morgan Ensberg hit a drive to the gap in right-center, but Edmonds stretched out to make the backhanded catch, belly-flopping onto the warning track but holding on.

Mulder pitched good enough to win, giving up eight hits and one earned run in seven innings.

But Oswalt was even better.

Notes: While it wasn't as controversial as the call in Game 2 of the ALCS, home plate umpire Greg Gibson got one wrong in the second. He ruled Grudzielanek grounded out on a dribbler to the mound, but television replays clearly showed the ball went off the hitter's foot and should have been called foul. ... Hall of Famer and former Cardinals SS Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Friday is the 20th anniversary of Smith's memorable home run off Tom Niedenfuer to win Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers. ... After Sanders went down, So Taguchi took over in LF. He struck out against Lidge in the bottom half of the eighth.

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