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Clemens slows down Cardinals10/16/2004 6:33 PM ET
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The National League Championship Series remained on serve on Saturday afternoon. Jeff Suppan pitched admirably for the Cardinals, but the Astros rode their two big advantages -- Roger Clemens and Minute Maid Park -- to a 5-2 win over St. Louis in Game 3.
The Cards still hold a 2-1 series lead, with Game 4 set for Sunday afternoon in Houston. Going back to the regular season, the Astros have won 20 of their last 21 games at home. St. Louis has lost five straight at Minute Maid.
Suppan pitched a game that resembled his previous playoff start, six days earlier in Los Angeles. He struggled somewhat with his command in the early going, then settled in to retire the last 10 batters he faced. Unlike the Dodgers game, however, Suppan didn't get the kind of backing from his offense that Cardinals pitchers have come to expect.
For that, thank Clemens.
St. Louis had chances against Clemens in the first few innings, but like Suppan, he found his stride as the game went on. The future Hall of Famer turned to his split-finger pitch for the second and third times through the batting order, and struck out seven of the last 13 Cardinals who stepped in against him.
"You're not gonna see the same stuff twice through the order," said Scott Rolen, who singled and walked in four plate appearances. "He was throwing me a lot of fastballs, then he came back and started throwing a lot of splits and mixing in sliders and curveballs. He was pitching. That's what he does. When a guy can pitch and still has good stuff as he does, it's a pretty good battle."
The contest turned in the fourth and fifth, with the Redbirds trailing by a run. After a leadoff single and a wild pitch, the Cards had a runner in scoring position with one out and dangerous hitters coming to the plate. Clemens secured his first K of the game on a filthy splitter to Edgar Renteria. He walked Reggie Sanders and struck out Mike Matheny to get out of the jam.
Still, the 42-year-old had already thrown 74 pitches, and his afternoon was in jeopardy of being a short one. When the Cards went 1-2-3 on 10 pitches in the fifth, Clemens locked in and was never threatened again.
"Maybe for the first four or five innings, I don't know what Roger's feelings are, but I don't think he had his best stuff," Larry Walker said. "And then six and seven came along, and all of a sudden something happened. He was pretty much unhittable in six and seven. We couldn't take advantage of it even if he was off, which we thought he was. That's how good he is."
Houston turned to Brad Lidge for the final two innings, and Lidge did what he's paid to do. Albert Pujols managed a sharp two-out single in the eighth, but the hard-throwing righty put away Rolen to end the frame. After two more Houston runs in the bottom of the inning, Lidge once again found himself in trouble -- and once again worked out of it.
A leadoff walk and a hit batter made pinch-hitter John Mabry the potential tying run before Lidge struck Mabry out to end the game.
"We had quality at-bats," said Tony Womack. "We were just one swing away from tying the game up or taking a lead. I don't care what [Clemens] did. We did a lot of things right against him. We should be happy, keep our heads up and come out tomorrow ready to play."
Walker and Edmonds hit solo homers in the first and second innings, respectively. Walker's blast was a booming line drive that reached the concourse area above the 404-foot sign in left-center. It was conservatively estimated to have traveled 406 feet.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, by the time Edmonds went deep the 'Stros already had three on the board. Lance Berkman rapped a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the first, and Jeff Kent followed with a two-run shot. Suppan got ahead of both hitters 0-2 before they reached base.
"Any time you go against good hitters, they're going to take good at-bats," Suppan said. "They were able to get some good at-bats early and get my pitch count up, but it's not something you're really thinking of. You're trying to pitch to a situation or to what you're seeing out there."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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