Sizzling Astros sweep Redbirds

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Houston passes Chicago in wild-card race with a 6-4 victory over St. Louis.

By Joel Anderson ~ The Associated Press

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros pushed closer to a playoff berth, winning their club-record 15th straight home game by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 Wednesday night behind Jeff Kent and Jeff Bagwell.

The Astros temporarily tied San Francisco for the NL wild-card lead -- the Giants played later in San Diego. Houston also moved a half-game ahead of the slumping Chicago Cubs, who lost their second straight to Cincinnati earlier in the day.

Roger Clemens was denied his 19th win -- and almost certainly a chance at his seventh 20-win season -- when he left with the score tied at 4 after the sixth.

But Bagwell had a run-scoring single in the seventh and Lance Berkman followed with an RBI double to help the Astros eclipse their best home winning streak set in 1980 at the Astrodome.

Kent connected for the 300th homer of his career, backing Clemens through his worst outing in three weeks.

Chad Qualls (4-0) pitched a scoreless seventh for the win, Dan Miceli struck out the side in the eighth and Brad Lidge got three outs for his 27th save in 31 chances.

The Rocket got off to a strong start, retiring the first 10 batters before So Taguchi singled in the fourth.

Roger Cedeno followed with a double to the scoreboard in deep left, driving in Taguchi. Cedeno went to third on the throw and scored on Jose Vizcaino's throwing error to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead.

Scott Rolen, who returned from an injured calf a night before, added a two-run shot in the fifth to tie the game at 4. The homer, Rolen's 34th of the season, nearly went out of the park, hitting the train tracks atop the wall in left-center.

Clemens left the game after Jim Edmonds flied out to center to end the inning. He isn't scheduled to make another start before the end of the regular season, but has suggested he'd like to pitch in the regular-season finale against Colorado on Sunday.

Kent became the 105th player to reach 300 homers with his second-inning shot off Jeff Suppan (16-9). The four-time All-Star joined Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Ruben Sierra, Edmonds and Vinny Castilla in reaching that mark this season.

Morgan Ensberg's two-run homer in the fourth was almost stopped by Taguchi, who stuck his glove in the air but just missed the ball as it bounced off the wall and into the right-field seats. Ensberg, who hit only his ninth home run of the season, pumped his fist and let out a yell as he rounded the bases.

Bagwell's RBI double in the fifth gave Houston a 5-4 lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Suppan went seven innings, allowing six runs on nine hits in his first road loss of the year. The right-hander struck out four and walked one.

Suppan was 10-0 in 13 road starts before Wednesday's game, hoping to join Jimmy Key in 1994 and Greg Maddux in '95 as the only pitchers to go undefeated in a season on the road.

Hours before the game, many Astros gathered around a large TV to watch the final innings of the Cincinnati-Chicago Cubs game. When Cincinnati's Austin Kearns tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth, the Astros' clubhouse erupted with cheers and whoops.

Houston is off Thursday, then concludes its season at Minute Maid Park with a three-game series against the Rockies.

The Cardinals, who clinched the NL Central last weekend, were handed their first three-game sweep since June 28-30 at Pittsburgh.

Notes: The Cardinals gave 1B Albert Pujols the night off. John Mabry replaced him in the lineup. ... Houston's Carlos Beltran stole his career-high 42nd base of the season in the third. He needs only two more homers to become the fourth player in major league history with a 40-40 season. ... Nolan Ryan watched the game from the second row behind home plate.

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