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Game balls: Rating Game 110/14/2004 12:24 AM ET
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.