Cardinals power past Astros, 10-7

Houston's four home runs not enough in NLCS opener

October 14, 2004|By Paul Sullivan | Paul Sullivan,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ST. LOUIS - Pitching and defense may win championships, but the National League Championship Series figures to be determined by which team could out-slug the other.

The St. Louis Cardinals got in the first licks last night, pounding Houston's bullpen in a 10-7 victory at Busch Stadium that immediately put the Astros on the defensive.

With unimpressive starter Pete Munro facing the Cardinals' Matt Morris in Game 2 tonight, Houston's chances of returning home with a split in the seven-game series appear remote.

The Astros hit four home runs, including three two-run shots, but that was the extent of their offense. St. Louis managed to bounce back from two early deficits, scoring six runs in the sixth inning to turn a tie game into a rout and taking advantage of a couple of hanging Chads - relievers Chad Qualls and Chad Harville.

The game began to slip away from Houston when Edgar Rentaria singled off Qualls leading off the sixth. Reggie Sanders then reached on a broken-bat single up the middle that Qualls waved at and second baseman Jeff Kent let glance off his glove on a diving attempt.

After Mike Matheny's sacrifice bunt, pinch hitter Roger Cedeno tapped down the first-base line on the first pitch. But instead of letting the ball roll foul, first baseman Jeff Bagwell fielded it right on the line and tagged Cedeno as the go-ahead run scored. Everything collapsed after that.

"We couldn't quite get the outs that we needed," Astros manager Phil Garner said.

Tony Womack's soft single scored Sanders to make it 6-4 and, after Womack stole second with two outs, Larry Walker bounced one to short and beat Jose Vizcaino's throw to first as the third run scored. After Albert Pujols walked to load the bases, Harville entered and served up a bases-clearing double to Jim Edmonds that put things out of reach.

"We got some huge hits that fell in for us," Walker said. "A string of hits is just as good as hitting the ball out of the ballpark."

The Astros were in trouble from the national anthem on. They were forced to start Brandon Backe because of a combination of factors, namely injuries to Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller and a five-game Division Series with Atlanta that left Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt unavailable.

Sometimes the last option is the only option, and the 26-year-old Backe was thrown into the fire despite a 5-3 record and only nine regular-season starts.

"Growing up, watching them struggle through the playoffs has been terrible for me as a fan," said Backe, who grew up in Galveston, Texas. "I cheered them on as much as anybody else when I was a little kid, and you know, just to have this happen and me being on the team is a dream come true."

Backe pitched respectably, but the dream quickly evaporated once he left the game in the hands of his bullpen.

Houston started off the first against Woody Williams with a leadoff single by Craig Biggio and a two-run, line-drive home run by Carlos Beltran, his fifth of the postseason.

But the Cardinals stormed back in the bottom of the inning when right fielder Lance Berkman misplayed Walker's hit into a triple and Pujols jacked a 2-0 pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run homer, tying it 2-2.

Backe and Williams settled down after their rocky starts until Williams walked Bagwell leading off the fourth and Kent homered to put the Astros on top 4-2. Backe, who struck out six in an eight-batter span between the first and fourth innings, began to struggle in the Cardinals' fifth.

Williams doubled with one out and scored on Walker's bloop double to left. After a walk to Pujols, Backe was replaced by Qualls, who previously had blown a three-run lead for Clemens in Game 4 of the Division Series.

Qualls was at it again last night, immediately giving up a run-scoring single to Scott Rolen, breaking an 0-for-14 playoff slump for Rolen and tying the game 4-4. He gave up five more runs in the fateful sixth, ending the suspense and putting the pressure on Munro to come out strong in Game 2 so Garner can save his shaky middle relievers.

Cardinals' Carpenter out

The end of the season came early for Chris Carpenter.

The Cardinals' 15-game winner has been sidelined since Sept. 18 - the day his team clinched the NL Central - with nerve damage to his right biceps. He had an encouraging exam on Tuesday, but the team has given up on him pitching in the postseason.

Carpenter had become the Cardinals' ace after missing 20 months with a shoulder injury that required two operations.

"He's feeling improved," manager Tony La Russa said yesterday before Game 1. "I just think it's so unrealistic to have him feel good enough to get in shape to pitch.

"I think we just feel real good that he's healthy and he should be 100 percent, and we'll see him next year."

The World Series opens Oct. 23 and that wouldn't be enough time.

"I don't even see how it's possible," La Russa said.

And the Cardinals wouldn't want to do anything risky, anyway.

"If you told him we'll get you ready but you may break and never pitch again, it's not even a close call," La Russa said. "It wouldn't be smart for him."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Cardinals vs. Astros

Best of seven; *-if necessary St. Louis leads series 1-0

Last night: St. Louis, 10-7

Tonight: Houston (Munro 4-7) at St. Louis (Morris 15-10), 8:19 p.m.

Saturday: St. Louis (Suppan 16-9) at Houston (Clemens 18-4), 4:25 p.m.

Sunday: St. Louis (Marquis 15-7) at Houston (Oswalt 20-10), 4:35 p.m.

*Monday: St. Louis at Houston, 8:19 p.m.

*Wednesday: Houston at St. Louis, 4:19 p.m.

*Thursday: Houston at St. Louis, 8:19 p.m.

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