Cardinals' turn to party, 5-2

Pujols' double, Rolen's HR in 6th send St. Louis past Astros, into Series vs. Sox

October 22, 2004|By Paul Sullivan | Paul Sullivan,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ST. LOUIS - Instead of going for the throat against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Houston Astros manager Phil Garner saved Roger Clemens for a potential seventh game.

Garner knew he had one of the best big-game pitchers in history at his disposal and assumed Clemens would be stronger on four days' rest.

But St. Louis made that one of the most painful decisions of Garner's career, winning Game 6 Wednesday night on Jim Edmonds' walk-off home run and coming from behind to beat Clemens last night and earn a berth in the World Series.

In a fitting ending to a remarkable series, the Cardinals beat Houston, 5-2, in Game 7 and will head to their first World Series since 1987. They previously won one in 1982.

St. Louis will face the Boston Red Sox in a rematch of the 1967 World Series beginning tomorrow night at Fenway Park.

"It's going to be a blast," Edmonds said. "Boston's a great town. They played so well to beat the Yankees."

It was the big guns that again came up huge for St. Louis in the do-or-die game. Trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning, the Cardinals tied it with two outs on Albert Pujols' RBI double, then went ahead for keeps on Scott Rolen's two-run, line-drive home run that was just to the right of the left-field foul pole.

"It's every little boy's dream," Pujols said. "I'm glad to have won the MVP, but that trophy is going to stay right in this [dressing] room because everybody here is MVP."

Houston's offense disappeared midway through the game. The Astros were hitless in their final 18 at-bats against Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan and three relievers.

Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent combined to go 0-for-13 in Game 7.

Suppan outpitched Clemens for the victory, yielding only one earned run on three hits in six innings before being removed for a pinch-hitter.

His biggest problem came in the fourth, when the Astros had a 2-1 lead and put the first two men on base. But he got out of it by striking out Brad Ausmus and Clemens for the final two outs.

Clemens started out strong but experienced one bad inning, and that fateful sixth cost him the game.

Roger Cedeno started it off with a pinch single off the glove of a diving Kent, then advanced on Edgar Renteria's sacrifice. With two outs and two strikes on him, Pujols sent a 92-mph fastball into left that tied the game at 2.

Before the crowd of 52,140 had sat down again, Rolen homered to set Busch Stadium rocking.

Houston got the game off with a bang as Craig Biggio led off the first with a home run to left off Suppan, the first time a Game 7 had started off with a homer. The Astros added a run in the third, using Beltran's speed instead of his bat.

After a walk and a steal of second, Beltran decided to test the arm of center fielder Jim Edmonds, whose diving catch of a wicked Ausmus liner in the second had prevented two runs from scoring.

Beltran tagged up on a Bagwell fly to center and forced an errant throw from Edmonds that wound up in the Astros' dugout as Beltran scored.

It was the Cardinals' first postseason error this year and their 12-game errorless streak dating to 2002 is a postseason record.

Clemens breezed through the second inning on five pitches as the Cardinals showed early impatience at the plate.

But Tony Womack opened the third with a double to left, advanced on a groundout and scored on Suppan's perfectly executed suicide squeeze on the first pitch from Clemens.

Houston caught a break in the fifth when Mike Matheny missed on a one-out bunt attempt with runners on first and second and catcher Ausmus picked off Womack at first.

Though replays showed Womack slid in safely under Bagwell's tag, first base umpire Eric Cooper was out of position and made an incorrect call. Matheny then flied to center, ending the threat.

The Astros came into St. Louis needing one victory to go to their first World Series, but remain one of six major-league teams who never have been to the Fall Classic.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Cardinals vs. Astros

Best of seven St. Louis wins series, 4-3

Game 1: St. Louis, 10-7

Game 2: St. Louis, 6-4

Game 3: Houston, 5-2

Game 4: Houston, 6-5

Game 5: Houston, 3-0

Game 6: St. Louis, 6-4 (12 inn.)

Last night: St. Louis, 5-2

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