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Astros' bullpen woes strike again
10/14/2004 11:44 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- The Houston Astros made it to the playoffs in part because their relievers picked up the pace down the stretch, but an ineffective bullpen is part of the reason the Astros find themselves down two games to none in the National League Championship Series.

For the second time in as many games, the bullpen was unable to hold the lead as the Cardinals claimed a 6-4 victory Thursday night at Busch Stadium.

"We'll get it worked out," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Thank goodness this wasn't a two-game series. We're not really where we want to be, certainly. But we'll get it worked out. They'll come through for us."

In the two losses, the Astros' bullpen has allowed nine earned runs in 6 2/3 innings, a 12.79 ERA. The Cardinals are hitting .345 against Houston relievers, who have been unable to bridge the gap from the starters to closer Brad Lidge.

No one is more frustrated by the bullpen struggles than the relievers themselves.

"It's unfortunate it's come at the worst time," said right-hander Dan Wheeler, one of the few bright spots in the Houston bullpen, with four scoreless innings in the NLCS. "I believe every time we go out there, whoever goes out there, is going to put up a zero. We've got some great arms out there. It's just unfortunate it's happened like this."

Chad Harville came on in relief of starter Pete Munro and promptly gave up a two-run homer to Scott Rolen in the fifth inning. Rolen's blast, one of two hit by the Cardinals third baseman off Houston relievers, gave St. Louis its first lead.

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They never trailed again.

"I came in, threw the first pitch for a strike and the second pitch [was a] curveball," Harville said. "He hit a pretty good pitch. I made the pitch I wanted to make. Just, unfortunately, it went out of the park. In that situation, you want to shut them down and try to get the momentum back on our side a little."

Harville said he would make the same pitch again in that situation.

"I thought I made a decent pitch, he just hit it out of the yard," Harville said. "If I'd thrown it any lower it would have bounced."

Though it was about 50 degrees and drizzling throughout the game, the Houston relievers said the weather and wet conditions were not factors. They also don't believe the problems will continue when the series resumes in Houston on Saturday.

"I think we're fine," Harville said. "I think it was one bad inning yesterday and a couple of long balls tonight, that's what's going to hurt you. We're not worried about it. We're not panicking at all. We'll be ready to go when we get home. One bad inning yesterday that [Chad] Qualls had, five ground-ball hits. It's not that big of a deal now, we're going to pick it up when we get home."

The Cardinals broke open a 4-4 game with back-to-back homers in the eighth by Albert Pujols and Rolen. This time, it was right-hander Dan Miceli who was victimized by the long ball.

Facts machine
So far, only Dan Wheeler has provided any relief for the Astros. Chad Qualls, Chad Harville and Dan Miceli have combined to post a 30.38 ERA over four appearances totaling 2 2/3 innings and have taken the loss in both Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS. None of the three has made an appearance without allowing a run.

Wheeler, however, has made two appearances and been lights out in both, going two scoreless innings each time while allowing just one hit and striking out six.

Reliever IP H ER BB K HR ERA

"I was just trying to get ahead and make some quality pitches," Miceli said. "Obviously, I didn't make quality pitches to Rolen and Pujols and they beat me."

Houston's team ERA for the two games is 9.00. Three relievers -- Harville at 27.00, Miceli at 18.00 and Qualls at 45.00 -- have been hit hard in the series, while Wheeler hasn't allowed a run. Lidge, Mike Gallo and Russ Springer have yet to see action in the NLCS.

Garner had Lidge warming up and planned to use him.

"Had we gone ahead, I was going to do that," Garner said. "I would have used him two innings. If we got through the eighth inning still tied, I was going to use him for a couple innings, too."

Miceli followed Wheeler, who pitched two perfect innings and struck out two.

"They said, 'You're done, nice job, we have guys out there that can do the job,'" Wheeler said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen tonight."

Miceli has been a workhorse for Houston this year, but is 0-1 with an 18.00 ERA in this series following his lone appearance Thursday night.

"I'm going to tell him to keep his head up, keep fighting and we'll get it," Garner said. "You're going to get knocked around sometimes, it's a good ballclub [we're facing]. They're going get us sometimes. It's going to come down to a couple of more games. We're going to need it. Dan is going to need to pitch well, and I think he will."

"It's been a rough couple of nights, but we'll shake it off and get after them," Miceli said.

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

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