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Early NLCS fireworks continue
10/17/2004 6:36 PM ET
HOUSTON -- Remember those old western flicks about buckboards and covered Conestoga wagons, and men on horseback lining up to gallop across the American plains for coveted parcels of land in the 1800s?

The flag drops, the dust flies, the race is on.

Fast forward to Sunday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park, where there's a continuation of that get-out-fast quest, with both clubs anxious to stake their claim to baseball's Promised Land, the World Series.

When the St. Louis Cardinals jumped to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning -- and the Houston Astros rallied for a run in the bottom half -- it was hardly unexpected, for the first inning in every contest has been troublesome for pitchers, but bountiful for batters.

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In the four games, the teams have tallied 13 runs on 15 hits -- six homers, six singles, two doubles, one triple -- and about a thousand aspirin tablets doled out to beleaguered pitchers.

"Getting a good jump" on the opposition is a plus for clubs, and Houston's Carlos Beltran has certainly gotten the message, hammering two homers, walking twice and scoring four times in the first inning this series. In Sunday's opening frame, he walked and scored on Jeff Bagwell's double.

His slugging Cardinals counterpart, Albert Pujols, has been equally potent, blasting a two-run homer in the first frame on Sunday against Roy Oswalt, equalling his Game 1 feat vs. Redbird right-hander Brandon Backe.

Both teams have proven power hitters, and they're certainly making both parks look small from the onset.

Facts machine
The Astros and Cardinals have combined for 13 first-inning runs, seventh on the all-time list for opening runs in an LCS:
Year Teams Runs Games
1989 Cubs-Giants185

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose club was third in the Senior Circuit with 214 homers this season and has hit three first-inning blasts in the series, said before Sunday's matchup the round-trippers are just part of the game, but hardly easy in the NLCS.

"We're not going to sit around and wait for somebody to hit the ball out of the park, especially against good pitching," he said. "That's tough to do."

Maybe, but not in this series, which has seen 16 taters belted overall through Sunday's first inning.

As for the quick offensive bursts, they only tell part of the story. In Game 2, Houston led, 1-0, after one frame but succumbed, 6-4, while holding a 3-1 margin in Game 3 and eventually winning.

Getting on the scoreboard fast and furiously is a factor, but like those old land grabs, who gets to the finish line first is what ultimately counts.

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

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