Game balls: Rating Game 310/16/2004 7:50 PM 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 who is at the top of the arch and who is feeling like kicking themselves after the Astros' 5-2 win in Game 3.
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
Jeff Suppan: The best pitching effort from a Cardinal in this series came in defeat. Suppan retired the last 10 batters he faced and didn't allow a run after the opening inning, but that three-run first was enough for Houston. Making it more frustrating for Suppan, he had an 0-2 hole on Kent that became a full count before giving up the two-run shot that provided the game-winning runs.
Larry Walker: He's the guy who comes up ahead of the supposedly dangerous portion of the Cardinals lineup. But after three games, Walker is helping make the No. 2 spot the treacherous trap of this series just as much as Carlos Beltran is. Walker has more triples than homers at Minute Maid Park in his career, but this supposed pull hitter couldn't resist those short dimensions toward left-center field on an outside pitch. It was his only hit of the game, but it gave the Cards a solid start off of Roger Clemens.
Jim Edmonds: His second-inning solo homer wasn't just the final run for the Cardinals in this game, but it also their last extra-base hit. Edmonds' leadoff walk in the ninth started a potential rally against Brad Lidge, as St. Louis eventually brought the tying run to the plate.
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.
Tony Womack: The leadoff speedster continues to struggle getting on base in front of the powerful bats. Womack went 0-for-4 on Saturday to fall to 2-for-13 in the series, and the closest he's come to a walk was a full count leading off Game 2 before he singled. All three Cardinals homers in St. Louis were two-run shots. Both of the Game 3 homers came with no one on base.
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
Roger Clemens: This is why the Astros have a better chance of overcoming their 2-0 series deficit than the Red Sox have with theirs. Clemens was borderline dominant on Saturday -- following a rough start in Game 4 of the NLDS -- allowing one hit over his final five innings of work and striking out seven of his final 13 batters. Just as important, he allowed the Astros to go to closer Brad Lidge without taking their chances with what has been shaky middle relief. If this goes into history as the Rocket's last game, he'll go out with a strikeout. He even kicked in another bizarre career moment when he followed through on his pitch as Reggie Sanders stepped out of the box.
Brad Lidge: The conspiracy theory suggested he wasn't used in St. Louis because he was really stranded at the airport in Atlanta after the Division Series. But considering a two-inning save took up 41 pitches Saturday, it's hard to blame Phil Garner for only wanting to use Lidge with a late lead and not risk overextending him. With just two National League teams still playing, he's the Senior Circuit's closest answer to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Carlos Beltran: No matter how carefully opponents try to pitch him, he still manages to homer once a game, a streak now at four after he went the opposite way on an outside pitch in the eighth. With seven round trippers already this postseason, the only factor that can stop him from obliterating Barry Bonds' record of eight would be a five-game exit by the Astros.
Lance Berkman: His popout to third on a 2-1 fastball with runners at the corners and one out in the third kept the Astros from cushioning the lead earlier, but his eighth-inning solo homer gave Houston a three-run lead heading into the ninth. So much for the idea of sapping Berkman's power by turning him around with a left-handed pitcher.
Jeff Kent: Not only did he work his way out of an 0-2 hole to force a full-count strike for his first-inning homer, he worked the count all afternoon, walking in his next at-bat and later popping out on a full count. Cardinals pitchers clearly approached Kent carefully after the homer, and he didn't bite on pitches outside of the strike zone.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.