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Game balls: Rating Game 2
10/15/2004 12:09 AM 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 Cardinals' 6-4 win in Game 2.

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

Astros

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Morgan Ensberg: Though he's not a member of the Killer B's, he does have a 'b' in his last name, if you want to be technical about it. Though Ensberg isn't known as a killer hitter, his solo homer leading off the fourth inning stretched Houston's lead. Then he was sharp enough to slap an RBI single through a drawn-in infield to tie the game in the seventh.

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Lance Berkman: Usually when Berkman changes the game by himself, it's with a home run. But stealing third base with one out in the seventh was a gutsy play, and he made it look easy. With that, the Cardinals had to bring their infield in, allowing Ensberg to slap his RBI single through the middle. Phil Garner loves daring plays like that and it's exemplary of the difference in the second half of the season under Scrap Iron. Before his steal of third base, Berkman's sharp liner over Albert Pujols' glove in the fifth plated Houston's third run.

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Pete Munro: Maybe we're being generous, but he had four scoreless innings before giving up four runs in the fifth. And besides, who are these guys? Munro and Brandon Backe started the first two games of this series out of necessity, and both left their games with the lead. They essentially matched the Cardinals' top two starters with nothing to show for it but a well-rested Clemens and Oswalt starting the next two games in Houston.

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Carlos Beltran: It's as if starting pitchers now have to assume a Beltran homer in their outing. His solo shot in the first inning was the last good pitch he saw all night. Beltran walked three times after that and could see a lot more of those when the series heads to Houston.

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Dan Miceli: Bullpen scapegoat du jour, sign in please. Granted, facing Pujols and Scott Rolen as your first two batters in a tie game is an immediate crisis, but it continues the pattern of Houston's relief woes. This time, though, it came after Astros relievers retired seven consecutive batters. Miceli left a pitch up to Pujols and paid for it with a go-ahead homer, then gave up Rolen's solo shot after having him in an 0-2 hole.

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: Apparently tired of smacking line drives through the middle, he took a cookie from Miceli and lined it over the wall in left field instead for the go-ahead run. Pujols been retired just twice through two games of this series. Just as impressive was his bare-handed grab and throw on Eric Bruntlett's sacrifice-bunt try. Not only did he force Jose Vizcaino at third, but Pujols nearly turned it fast enough for Rolen to make a double-play throw to first. But what the heck was the deal with his glove flying through the air on Berkman's RBI single?

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Scott Rolen: Yeah, he's on now -- a pair of homers off Astros relievers and four RBIs through two games this series. The first homer, he practically swung at ankle height to golf a breaking ball out. At this rate, the Astros might have to pitch around Pujols and Rolen and take their chances with Edmonds with two on base.

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Busch Stadium grounds crew: For all the rain on Thursday night, it was hard to tell any effect on the field aside from cautious running by outfielders. Not even a complaint by pitchers on the condition of the mound, a usual gripe at other parks when they play through rain that hard. It's not just the fans that make St. Louis a great baseball town.

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Matt Morris: Somehow, an intentional walk -- and just two intentional balls at that -- seemingly knocked Morris out of his groove. He walked four Astros in a five-batter span and lost another guy in the fifth after an 0-2 count, yet three of his five strikeouts came on three pitches. Hard to figure out.

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Steve Kline: The lefty turned Vizcaino around and gave up a leadoff single in the sixth, then yielded the exact same hit to right-handed hitting Brad Ausmus. End of outing. Kiko Calero got Kline out of a jam, but it's a real bad sign for the Cards' bullpen if his injured finger is bothering him that much.

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


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