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Game balls: Rating Game 4
10/17/2004 8:45 PM ET
MLB.com is awarding "game balls" -- or, in this case, cowboy boots -- as the boys from Houston so often wear -- and arches -- to represent St. Louis as the Gateway to the West -- for performances in this year's National League Championship Series. Here's a look at who is at the top of the arch and who is feeling like kicking themselves after the Astros' Game 4 win.

Cardinals
Five arches: On top of the world
Four arches: Clear view down-river
Three arches: Walker underneath
Two arches: Saw it in the guidebook
One arch: I thought you said St. Paul

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Albert Pujols: The Astros finally found a way to retire Pujols when they absolutely needed to, but not by much. He either scored or drove in four of the Cardinals' five runs, including a two-run homer in the first inning -- St. Louis' only extra-base hit of the night -- and an RBI single in the fourth. The one time Pujols didn't get on base, he flew out to the warning track off of Brad Lidge with the potential tying run on base in the ninth. On a day when few other Cardinals reached base, Pujols drove this offense.

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Larry Walker: This guy won't allow himself to be an easy out. Walker's first-inning walk put a runner on for Pujols' homer. Walker turned an 0-2 hole into a full-count popout in the second, walked in the third inning, lined an 0-2 pitch back up the middle for a single in the fourth, then walked again in the ninth to put the potential tying run on base. If he couldn't smack the cover off of the ball, Walker would be a pretty effective leadoff man.

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Jason Marquis: He wasn't pretty in his four-plus innings of work, but he outpitched Roy Oswalt in that span and left the game with the lead. Say what you will about how the hard the Astros hit Marquis' pitches, especially for someone supposed to induce ground balls. But most of the damage off of Marquis came off his fastball, not the breaking stuff. You can do a lot worse for a fourth starter who would be a fifth man if not for Chris Carpenter's injury.

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Scott Rolen: He went 1-for-4 with a bloop single, but his quick feet to turn a double play with two on and none out kept Houston's first-inning surge from being worse. Rolen's hitting seems to come in spurts this postseason, but his defense is an asset every game.

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Kiko Calero: Give him credit for actually getting Carlos Beltran out, something no other Cards pitcher did Sunday. Calero's breaking ball caught both Beltran and Jeff Bagwell looking to escape trouble in the fifth inning before Houston pounded him for two runs and a tie game in the sixth. The game-tying hit, though, was an opposite-field bloop single off the end of the bat on a fastball down and away.

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Julian Tavarez: Hard to blame him for the pitch that Carlos Beltran for the game-winning homer, a breaking ball that was headed for the dirt. Easy to blame him for what happened after -- a four-pitch walk to Bagwell in which he was nowhere close to the strike zone, a wild pitch and an eventual intentional walk to Lance Berkman, then an 0-2 breaking ball that hit Jeff Kent to load the bases. Fortunately for Tavarez, Morgan Ensberg grounded into a double play on a 2-1 pitch, and the dugout phones at Minute Maid Park are pretty sturdy.

Astros

Five cowboy boots: Freshly shined and a perfect fit, ready for some serious two-stepping
Four cowboy boots: The first choice for a night on the town
Three cowboy boots: A few scuff marks, but no one will notice
Two cowboy boots: Showing serious signs of wear
One cowboy boot: Somebody stepped in something

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Carlos Beltran: It's not just the home runs that make him dominant this postseason, though his game-winning solo shot was incredible, coming off a breaking ball below his knees. You'd figure Beltran would be swinging for the fences at anything close by now the way he's hitting, but he took a four-pitch walk in the first inning. Then he turned a good pitch into a one-out single and the start of another rally in the third. Beltran was actually caught looking at a third strike for his only out, but with three runs scored, that's not enough to take away a boot.

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Lance Berkman: Between two walks, a two-run double and a solo homer, he drove in three runs without making an out on the afternoon. Berkman has homered in three of four games this series, scored six times and grown a playoff beard that would make a hockey player proud.

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Brad Lidge: Four innings and 68 pitches in little more than 24 hours? No problem. He had some help with a diving grab from Jeff Bagwell and a Pujols fly ball that died at the warning track, but those were about the only pitches he gave the Cardinals to hit. Lidge's performance has given Phil Garner no reason not to use him again on Monday night, if needed. If Lidge sits, it won't be his fault.

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Dan Wheeler: Now if Wheeler could pitch two innings in every game, the Astros wouldn't have to hear all those questions about their bullpen. He's pitched five innings in this series, and this is the first one in which he allowed a baserunner. Wheeler stranded Yadier Molina, bumped his strikeout total for this series to six, then turned the game over to Lidge once Houston took the lead.

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Raul Chavez: In the battle of backup catchers, Chavez came out best by turning a nasty cutter into an opposite-field single to tie the game in the sixth inning. It was his only hit of the game in the only situation he faced with runners on base.

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


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