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Quartet of homers can't save Astros10/13/2004 10:59 PM ET
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Houston Astros relievers are not unaccustomed to absorbing a multitude of innings when Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt are not pitching. What they are not used to, however, is letting a close game get out of hand, as they did on Wednesday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. As a result, a nail-biter became a 10-7 Cardinals win that gave the Redbirds their first-ever Game 1 NLCS win under manager Tony La Russa in four tries. Brandon Backe, who won Game 3 of the Division Series, handled the most dangerous lineup in the Major Leagues admirably during 4 2/3 innings. But the Astros' 4-3 lead upon his departure in the fifth quickly turned into a 10-4 deficit, with most of the damage coming off Chad Qualls and Chad Harville in the sixth.
Both relievers were frustrated, not so much with the number of hits they gave up, but with the fact that so few of them were anything other than the broken bat, blooper variety."For them to get so many infield hits, broken bat hits ... it was just unbelievable," Qualls said. "I thought I could catch a break sooner or later and it just never came. "I felt good. I made my pitches. They might have hit maybe one ball hard, to lead off the sixth inning. They didn't put one ball in the outfield. I can't ask for anything else. It just wasn't my day." With the score tied at 4, Roger Cedeno, pinch-hitting for Woody Williams, sent a slow grounder just inside the chalk on the first-base line. Jeff Bagwell opted to retrieve it before waiting for it to go foul, and as he tagged Cedeno, Edgar Renteria scored the go-ahead run from third. That's when the floodgates were officially opened for business. Tony Womack followed with a base hit off Qualls (0-1), plating Reggie Sanders, and after Womack stole second, Larry Walker reached on an infield hit to short. Jose Vizcaino's errant throw to first allowed Womack to score.
Scott Rolen loaded the bases with a walk off Harville, and Jim Edmonds emptied them with a double to the corner in right. Many in the Astros' clubhouse felt that double was one of maybe two well-hit balls the Cardinals hit the entire inning."One through nine, they're solid," Harville said. "You've got to make guys put the ball in play. It was one rough inning right there. Qualls made some quality pitches and they had one of those game where they put the ball in play and had some infield hits, then Edmonds had a clutch double down the line." Manager Phil Garner was not discouraged by Qualls or Harville's performances, either. "It was a tough inning for us, but that's the way this game goes sometimes," he said. "You can break a lot of bats and you still have to score the runs, and they did it tonight.
"Qualls did a pretty good job of keeping the ball in the infield, but we couldn't get that final out. It was just hard to get the final out."The Astros had the lead twice early in the game. Carlos Beltran, who hit .455 with four homers during the Division Series, continued his offensive surge, homering in his first at-bat to give the Astros a quick 2-0 lead. The Cardinals, however, scored two in the bottom of the first behind an Albert Pujols homer. "They've got a really good offense, and you can't stop scoring runs because they can get back in in two swings, just like that," Beltran said. "They were hitting the ball good and getting key hits wtih two outs and men in scoring position. They did a good job." Jeff Kent's two-run homer in the fourth off Williams gave the temporary lead back to Houston, but the Cards roared back in the fifth. Williams doubled off Brandon Backe, moved to third on Womack's grounder to the left side and scored on Walker's broken-bat double to shallow left field. Rolen, 0-for-14 in the postseason, singled off Qualls to score Walker, tying the game at 4.
Lance Berkman narrowed the deficit in the eighth with a two-run homer off Ray King, and pinch-hitter Mike Lamb's solo homer with two outs in the ninth made it just a bit more interesting. But closer Jason Isringhausen induced a groundout from Beltran to earn his first NLCS save with just one pitch."Our guys did a great job coming back, too," Bagwell said. "They had to get their closer in the game. We didn't win the game, but they know we're not going away. No need to panic right now. It's one game in a seven-game series." Even so, the Astros know they would be best served leaving St. Louis with a split after Thursday's Game 2. "They have a good team over there but we know we have a good team over here, too," Beltran said. "Today went their way and there's nothing we can do. Tomorrow, we have to take one of the two."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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