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Game balls: Rating Game 1
10/14/2004 12:24 AM ET 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 the Cardinals' 10-7 win in Game 1.

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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Brandon Backe: His line score will boost the numbers against starters going on three days' rest, but he did his job. After three first-inning hits made the Cardinals look poised for an early outburst, the kid recovered to strike out six of the next eight batters. Five of them came on nasty breaking balls that made even Albert Pujols look foolish. The Astros had a chance to win upon his exit, and that's all that can be asked of Houston's rotation besides Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt.

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Carlos Beltran: His first-inning, line-drive homer to right was only slightly more impressive than his foul ball that landed in the top deck during his next at-bat. He's seeing everything around the strike zone in the playoffs -- no matter the speed -- and pouncing on any mistakes pitchers give him over the plate.

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Jeff Kent: He drove a hanging breaking ball to give the Astros back the lead in the fourth. Kent tried to swing for the fences again after a 3-0 count in the sixth, but ended up striking out to end the inning.

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Lance Berkman: The other Killer B's two-run homer in the eighth gave the Astros life, though his fielding whiff on Larry Walker's first-inning liner in the lights gave the Cardinals initial momentum in the first inning. Add in a fielder's choice just deep enough behind first base to leave a runner on for Kent's homer in the fourth, and everything evened out.

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Jeff Bagwell: The look on his face after he picked up Roger Cedeno's go-ahead RBI ground ball suggested he knew he should've taken his chances it would go foul. It's not a look you're used to seeing from Bagwell in the field. The way the Cardinals were hitting, though, they would've driven in that run anyway.

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Chad Qualls: Yes, he's a rookie reliever in the NLCS, and Scott Rolen's game-tying liner was the only hard hit off of him. But he's the scapegoat du jour for a bullpen that continues to struggle bridging the gap between Houston's gifted starters and closer Brad Lidge.

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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Larry Walker: To repeat the standard line: This guy's hitting in the two hole? He fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle -- though each one had a quirk to it -- and was one of the few Cardinals hitters who weren't falling for Backe's breaking ball. To have enough strength to drop an RBI double into left field off the end of a broken bat was almost as much a sign of younger days as his infield single the next inning.

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Scott Rolen: You knew 0-for-postseason wasn't going to last. He was the only Cardinal that Backe rung up on a fastball, but his game-tying RBI single in the fifth broke the slump and made the Astros pay for pitching around Albert Pujols. His walk in the sixth then set up Jim Edmonds' bases-clearing double to break the game open. If he heats up behind Pujols, the Astros' chances in this series look worse and worse.

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Albert Pujols: Five plate appearances, four times on base, including the time he rounded them on the two-run homer. And the one time he didn't reach base, he nearly escaped an 0-2 hole before fanning on a full count. For a frightening hitter, he went deep into counts, setting the tone for the middle of the order against Backe.

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Jim Edmonds: He struck out to strand two runners in the fifth, but got a second chance with the bases loaded the following inning and delivered a critical three-run double. He has 12 career RBIs in 11 career NLCS games. None of Wednesday's RBIs proved to be the game-winner, but they were really nice to have once the Astros started slugging again in the late innings.

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Woody Williams: He gave up a pair of two-run homers but retired nine straight in between the rallies. Plus, he made amends for one of those runs with a surprise double on an 0-2 pitch to start the Cards' game-tying rally in the fifth. It wasn't the reason why he was starting Game 1, but it sure helped.

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Julian Tavarez : The last thing you want to do in a game with a big lead is force the closer in, rest or no rest. Tavarez only gave up one of the seven runs, but he needed to close out the game against Palmeiro or Biggio and couldn't. That brought in Jason Isringhausen to face Beltran for one pitch.

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