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Cards put game away in sixth10/14/2004 12:14 AM ET
By Rich Draper / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- It started innocently enough with a pair of singles, but the Cardinals' sixth-inning safeties proved a portent of potency to come.
They were the matches that ignited the fire that lit the fuse to a crucial six-run outburst that hurtled St. Louis to a 10-7 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night.
The smell of the fireworks hadn't dissipated when the Astros fought back with three runs in rebuttal, but that big sixth proved too much to overcome.
Knotted at 4 entering the fateful frame, the Cardinals made the crowd come alive as Edgar Renteria and Reggie Sanders knocked base-hit grounders -- the latter shot ricocheted off Jeff Kent's glove -- and some fans may have begun humming the tune of "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
Indeed. Catcher Mike Matheny moved the runners up with a nice bunt to relief pitcher Chad Qualls. Pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno then nubbed a ball that stayed fair down the first-base line, with Jeff Bagwell's only option being to tag Cedeno as Renteria scored the go-ahead run.
The Redbirds' small-ball rally was on.
"With the infield in, all I tried to do was make contact, put the ball in play," said Cedeno. "I thought the ball was going to roll foul, but then it slowed and Bagwell picked it up. Renteria was right on it -- he got a great jump.
"I was surprised," he said of Bagwell scooping up the line-hugging ball. "I was up there just trying to make the best of the situation, get the RBI somehow. I think we got lucky in that inning, but all year we just go 100 percent, try to make things happen."
Things kept happening in the inning. Nothing dramatic, but oh-so important. There were two outs, yet painful minutes for the Astros would keep coming.
Cardinals leadoff batter Tony Womack, celebrating a career-best campaign, was up next. He kept the party going with a single up the middle that scored Sanders, and then stole second.
"There are three outs and you try to make it hard for [the opposition]," said the 35-year-old veteran making his fourth postseason appearance. "Everybody contributed and we got the 'W.' We feed off one another and everybody goes up there and tries to have quality at-bats.
"We stay within our means and do what we have to do," said Womack, who joined the Cardinals this season to rejuvenate his game. "And a win is a win -- it doesn't matter ... big, small, ugly, pretty, who cares. It's a 'W.'"
Larry Walker kept the rally alive when he was safe with an infield single. Womack smartly moved to third, and scored when shortstop Jose Vizcaino's throw skipped past Bagwell.
Funny thing. The Cardinals are an explosive club, second in the Senior Circuit with 214 homers this season, but the sixth was like using popguns. Still, it worked.
"You can say it was luck -- we had a lot of cheap hits," said Walker. "I know in this game you can hit the ball on the nose three times and get a goose egg. You take everything you can get. We got some fortunate hits that fell in for us."
Following walks to Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen to load the bases, Edmonds ripped reliever Chad Harville's pitch into the right-field corner, upping the Cardinals' lead to 10-4.
Those last three runs proved vital as Lance Berkman drilled a two-run homer in the eighth, and Mike Lamb blasted a solo shot in the ninth for a three-run margin.
What might have been wasn't on Houston manager Phil Garner's mind in the sixth. He knows how the game can go. Should Bagwell have let that dribbler run its course?
"I've had those balls kick fair and go down the line for a double when I tried it one time," he said. "You never know what's going to happen with that ball. I wouldn't second-guess Baggy on that."
It was a strange night for the Astros, who belted four homers but were beaten by seeing-eye singles and rollers, plus that monster bases-clearing Edmonds' double in the sixth.
"They hit some well-placed balls in the infield," Garner said. "We had a difficult time. So tip your hat to them; they put them in play."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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