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Astros' bats bury Cardinals
04/12/2004  1:35 AM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Craig Biggio was, in some capacity, involved with almost every run the Houston Astros scored Monday night.

But after his 3-for-5 performance that included a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning that broke open what was a close game, the veteran center fielder said his game ball goes to right-handed reliever Brandon Duckworth.

Biggio had a good point. Without Duckworth's early contributions in long relief, this runaway victory could have easily gone in favor of the St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, the Astros snuck away with a 10-5 series-opening win on an uncomfortably blustery evening before 26,654 chilly fans at Busch Stadium.

Duckworth stopped the bleeding that began with an ineffective start by knuckleballer Jared Fernandez, who pitched to seven batters in the first inning and logged only one out.

Four Cardinals runs crossed the plate on three hits and three walks, and essentially wiped out the Astros' four-run effort by way of a Jeff Bagwell RBI double and three-run homer from Richard Hidalgo off Cardinals right-hander Woody Williams.

With Fernandez out of the game and runners on first and second, Duckworth induced fielder's choice grounders from Mike Matheny and Williams to keep the score tied at four. The right-hander remained in the game through the fourth, holding the Cardinals to one run in the second inning while retiring six of the last seven batters he faced.

"Our bullpen did a fabulous job tonight," Biggio said. "Just from the way (Duckworth) came in and threw three, four innings, he pitched great against their lineup and gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame. He really did a nice job. So did everybody else, but he was a big part of it."

The Astros were banking on Duckworth to be able to step in as a long reliever, and that element of his game helped the right-hander make the team out of Spring Training. Duckworth, who has been both a starter and reliever, was glad to be able to come through with this element of his job description.

"We knew it was going to be a bullpen day today because no one was really stretched out to go long into a game," he said. "When you have to go and fill in in the first inning, that's tough, but you just have to bear down and make your pitches and try to get some quick outs."

Duckworth placed the game in capable hands upon his exit after the fourth inning. Dan Miceli, Ricky Stone (1-0), Brad Lidge and Ocatavio Dotel combined for five scoreless frames, which gave the Astros' offense plenty of time to make a bid for a comeback.

"That bullpen, they really did an outstanding job against a tough-hitting ballclub," manager Jimy Williams said. "After they scored those five runs, our guys pitched good, played good defense and we got some big hits, to say the least."

Down 5-4 with one out in the seventh, Biggio knocked a double off Mike Lincoln, advanced to third on Lincoln's wild pickoff attempt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Adam Everett. Jeff Kent and Lance Berkman led off the eighth with base hits off Lincoln, and Kent scored the go-ahead run on Hidalgo's sac fly.

The Astros had one out in that inning when Jose Vizcaino's sac fly attempt with the bases loaded didn't carry far enough to score Berkman. But Biggio, already with two doubles in this game, gave the Astros one final chance.

Duckworth recalled watching Biggio's at-bat against Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez from the clubhouse television with Stone, Miceli and Fernandez.

"We were kind of like, it would be kind of nice if he cleared the bases right here," said Duckworth. "The next thing you know, it happens. It was a sign of relief, I can tell you that.

"But that's just another clutch performance once again. It seems like we've just had guys come in big situatons and come through."

Said Biggio: "(Tavarez) started off with slider for strike one and then came in with a sinker and I was just able to catch the good part of the bat. I knew I hit it well, but I didn't know with tonight's elements what was going to happen. It was a little cold, it was windy. Your eyes start watering and it kind of makes it difficult on everybody on both sides." The outcome of the game helped to take some of the sting out of Fernandez's rough beginning to the regular season. Monday's start, combined with allowing two runs in two-thirds of an inning in relief Friday in Milwaukee, the right-hander's ERA after two games stands at 54.00.

"It was coming out of my hand good, and I took the spin off it, but it just wasn't moving," he said. "The little movement I did get, it was still in the zone. As a Major League pitcher you just have to adapt to those things and start it lower.

"I'm going through a rough spell. I've been through them before and I'll go through them again. I worked way too hard in the offseason after the (back) surgery that I'm not panicking over two outings that were bad. I'll look at it on a positive note -- we won, and everybody picked everybody up."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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