Astros get no relief, as Cards go up 2-0

Houston 'pen falters again in 6-4 loss

Rolen hits 2 HRs to break out of slump

October 15, 2004|By Ben Bolch | Ben Bolch,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ST. LOUIS - The Houston Astros acquired Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte before the season in a bid to equip themselves with the best starting rotation in the National League. Then they traded for Carlos Beltran before the All-Star break to boost their batting order to St. Louis Cardinals-like proportions.

Maybe this off-season they can acquire some decent middle relievers to get them to closer Brad Lidge with a late-inning lead.

Houston could be two games away from making plans to revamp its bullpen for 2005 after one of its relievers again failed to preserve a lead and another surrendered consecutive homers in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' 6-4 victory last night at Busch Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Scott Rolen's two-run homer off Chad Harville in the fifth gave St. Louis a 4-3 lead, and after Houston tied the score in the seventh, Albert Pujols and Rolen led off the bottom of the eighth against Dan Miceli with the first back-to-back homers in Cardinals postseason history.

"The numbers that matter the most," said Rolen, 1-for-16 in the playoffs before last night, "are 6-4 tonight."

In the ninth, with the temperature dipping into the mid-40s amid a steady drizzle, St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen weathered two walks to record the save, retiring Morgan Ensberg on a fly ball to the warning track in right-center field for the final out.

"Thank goodness, this wasn't a two-game series," said Houston manager Phil Garner, whose team stranded 11 runners and went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

Miceli's inability to keep the score tied in the eighth, a day after Houston reliever Chad Qualls had allowed five runs in a decisive seventh-inning meltdown, left the Astros in a particularly troublesome spot.

Houston will try to join the 1985 Kansas City Royals and 1985 Cardinals as the only teams to advance to the World Series after trailing 2-0 in the League Championship Series since it was expanded to seven games in 1985.

The Astros can take some solace in the fact that Clemens, who would have started on normal rest in Game 2 had it been pushed back until today, will now start Game 3, with 20-game winner Roy Oswalt scheduled to start Game 4.

"We're confident with those guys on the mound," said Beltran, who continued his postseason surge with a bases-empty homer in the first, his second homer of the series and sixth of the playoffs. "This isn't over yet. We're going to go home, where we've been playing well."

The Astros wanted the rain that delayed the game's start by 28 minutes to result in a postponement so they could rely on the guy headed for Cooperstown, not the guy who had spent the first two months of the season pitching halfway across New York in Triple-A Rochester.

And yet, for the first 4 2/3 innings, journeyman Pete Munro shut down the Cardinals in a performance worthy of Clemens.

Then, with a runner on second and two out in the fifth, Larry Walker hit a two-run homer that barely cleared the right-field wall, trimming the Cardinals' deficit to 3-2.

There was no doubt about Rolen's two-run homer off Harville two batters later that landed in the Houston bullpen beyond the left-field wall.

Tony Womack might have wiped out the threat with an inning-ending double play on his sharp grounder to Ensberg had the third baseman not needed to pause momentarily to allow second baseman Jeff Kent to reach the bag before making his throw.

"We play Womack in the hole," Ensberg said. "You're just sitting there waiting."

The Cardinals scored all four runs in the inning after Womack's grounder, giving them 11 runs in two games with two outs.

"They've managed to put a couple [of] runs on the board when we should be out of the inning," Garner said.

Ensberg, who had hit his first postseason homer leading off the fourth to give Houston a 2-0 lead, tied the score at 4-4 in the seventh on his single up the middle past a drawn-in infield.

Miceli trotted out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth. Garner said afterward he would have used Lidge to pitch the inning only if his team had possessed the lead.

"There's no room for error there," Miceli said of pitching with the score tied. "You don't want to put anyone on, so you have to challenge them."

They were confrontations that ended in curtain calls for the Cardinals, and a decisive advantage in the series.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baseball playoffs

AL Championship Series, Game 3:

N.Y. Yankees at Boston, tonight, 8:19 p.m., chs. 45, 5

NL Championship Series, Game 3:

St. Louis at Houston, tomorrow, 4:25 p.m., chs. 45, 5

Cardinals vs. Astros

Best of seven; *-if necessary St. Louis leads series 2-0

Game 1: St. Louis, 10-7

Last night: St. Louis, 6-4

Tomorrow: 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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