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Astros ride Clemens, homers to win10/16/2004 6:12 PM ET
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros, down two games to none heading into Game 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, knew they could absolutely not afford to lose another game in the best-of-seven series.
That's probably why only Roger Clemens and Brad Lidge pitched in this game, and probably also why the Astros won, 5-2, marking their 20th win in 21 games played at Minute Maid Park.The Astros can even the series on Sunday with their second of two aces taking the mound before what is sure to be a crowd as loud as the 42,896 that packed Minute Maid Park for Game 3. Roy Oswalt, who hasn't pitched since Game 5 of the Division Series last Monday, will make his first NLCS start Sunday.
With the knowledge that Clemens and Oswalt were on deck, so to speak, the Astros may have been the peppiest team to return from a road trip 0-2 in a playoff series when they left St. Louis on Thursday. They were even more upbeat following Saturday's win."So far, so good," Jeff Bagwell said. "We needed a win today. But it doesn't stop here. We can't be satisfied here. We have to even this series tomorrow. This team has been backed up to a wall a bunch, and every time it's been backed up, it's come back fighting." Such was the case Saturday. It began with seven solid innings from Clemens, who, typically, was good enough on a day when he didn't appear to be his strongest. The Rocket yielded two solo homers -- one to Larry Walker in the first and one to Jim Edmonds in the second -- but following that leadoff shot, Clemens allowed only four baserunners to carry him through seven innings. And the Astros did their part with a three-run first, sparked by a two-run homer by Jeff Kent. Turning to his split-fingered fastball late in the game allowed Clemens to stave off the Cardinals' always-dangerous lineup. Although he did not record his first strikeout until the final out in the fourth, he ended his 116-pitch outing with seven, including four of the final seven batters he faced.
"It was working a little better," Clemens said of his splitter. "I came out a little slow, and I wanted to make sure my legs were under me after the problem I had my start before, at home. My leg -- my pushoff leg -- was bothering me a little bit."After I knew it was nice and hot, Brad [Ausmus] and I started rushing the ball when we wanted to, going to the split when we needed. As the game went on, I was sharper and my split was a little more violent. It worked out." "What you saw today was exactly what he's done for us so many times," manager Phil Garner said. "We got the three-run lead and he holds it right there. He got stronger in the last couple innings. When he knew he was close to the end, he got stronger. "He didn't get in trouble, he got them out. That's what he's been doing so well for us right there, is just stopping it and not letting it go any further and giving us a good, solid ballgame." The win was Clemens' 10th of his postseason career, and he became one of only eight players to win 10 playoff games. "Baseball season is a long season," Ausmus said. "Every single one of those starts, he's got this fire in his eye and this grit in his teeth, and it amazes me that he had done this for 20-plus years and continues to be successful. His concentration is unsurpassed." Lidge made sure there would be no second-guessing of Garner after this game. The closer began the eighth inning to preserve a one-run lead, slid into the No. 1 spot in the batting order following Craig Biggio's inning-ending groundout in the seventh and had no chance of having to leave for a pinch-hitter unless this game went into extra innings. With those logistical elements not an issue, the only thing left for Lidge to do was feed the top of the Cardinals order with a healthy serving of 84 to 88 mph sliders, mixed in with a fastball here and there. Although Albert Pujols singled with two outs, Lidge struck out Scott Rolen on three pitches to cap his two-strikeout frame.
Carlos Beltran homered off Dan Haren to lead off the eighth, and Lance Berkman hit his second right-handed homer off Ray King this series when he knocked a solo shot to give the Astros their three-run cushion.Lidge worked himself in and out of trouble in the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Edmonds, but caught Edgar Renteria and Reggie Sanders looking at called third strikes. After Lidge hit Marlon Anderson with a pitch, he recovered to strike out pinch-hitter John Mabry to record his first NLCS save. "Well, it felt good in the eighth inning," Garner said with a laugh. "I was beginning to worry toward the ninth inning. I looked at him struggle a little bit. I think it was good that he was in the game and that he got to get in the game. I think he was amped up a little bit in that ninth inning." Said Lidge: "I did feel like I was not quite in a groove there in that last inning. I don't know what it was from, but I'm not too worried about it. We got the results. We did what we wanted." But the Astros realize there's more work to do. "I almost got the impression they felt like they were going to sweep us, just by looking at their body language when it looked like we were going to win that game," Berkman said. "It was almost like they couldn't believe we might actually win one of these things. I just feel like with Roger on the mound and with Roy on the mound, we've got a good chance to beat anybody. "Today's a must-win, tomorrow's a must-win. It's two must-win games, back-to-back. We're not shying away from that. We know there's no room for error."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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