Astros take Game 2

Houston ties NLCS at 1-1 behind Oswalt's strong 7 innings

Astros 4, Cardinals 1


ST. LOUIS -- Roy Oswalt doesn't share the pinstriped past of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. He doesn't own a World Series ring and, like the team he plays for, Oswalt has never been to the Fall Classic.

But if the Houston Astros finally do make it there this October, they can thank Oswalt for his stellar performance last night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Oswalt held the St. Louis Cardinals in check for seven innings, allowing only Albert Pujols' home run, and outlasted Mark Mulder in Houston's 4-1 victory at Busch Stadium.

With the series tied 1-1, Game 3 is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

"We're pleased to take one game here and take the momentum," said the Astros' hero, Chris Burke, who went 2-for-4, scored two runs and had an RBI. "We're excited to get home to our fans, and that place will be rocking."

Burke started in left field and scored the game's first run on a passed ball after his second-inning triple. He added an RBI single in the eighth as Houston padded its lead for closer Brad Lidge, who pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three for the save.

"Roy was great - seven innings pitched and one run," Burke said of Oswalt, who improved his career playoff record to 3-0. "He bailed us out quite a few times."

Said Oswalt: "I was pretty pumped up. It's a key game, for sure, to leave here with a split and go home to play three games."

The Cardinals went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against the right-hander. Oswalt twice faced Jim Edmonds with two runners on - and came out on top both times against the dangerous left-handed hitter.

"Take your hat off to him," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "He never put the ball over the middle of the plate when we had a chance to hurt him."

Oswalt allowed five hits and struck out six in his 108-pitch effort, escaping a seventh-inning jam to get the 2-1 lead to Lidge. The Cardinals had runners on first and second after Yadier Molina's one-out double and a walk to pinch hitter John Rodriguez, but Oswalt retired David Eckstein on a fly ball to center and Edmonds grounded to first.

Mulder allowed two runs in seven innings, but only one was earned, and he also struck out six. The Cardinals left-hander threw 115 pitches, and the one that hurt him the most was the passed ball that kicked off Molina's glove to let Burke score in the second inning.

The Cardinals' Reggie Sanders was forced to leave in the eighth inning with a sprained lower back. Sanders made an awkward attempt to catch Adam Everett's long fly, which became a run-scoring triple, and stumbled at the warning track as the ball went off his glove.

La Russa said that Sanders, who has 12 RBIs in the postseason, was "probably 50-50" to play in Game 3. La Russa also said one of the team doctors had described Sanders' injuries as a "train wreck."

"He hit his back, he hit his head, he's got sore spots all over his body," the manager said. "He's bruised quite a bit all over and we'll see how he feels."

As he walked to the shower in the locker room after the game, Sanders said only, "I'll be fine."

Before last night, Game 2's had not been too fine for the Astros. They had lost five straight such games, but Oswalt, who went 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA during the regular season, was a good bet to reverse that trend.

After Edmonds' one-out single in the first inning, Molina was the only Cardinals hitter to reach the outfield until Pujols' leadoff homer in the sixth.

Molina flied to right in the second inning, then smacked a one-out double in the fifth, but never made it any further. Oswalt struck out Mulder, and after a walk to Eckstein, he caught Edmonds looking at a full-count pitch to end the inning.

David Lennon writes for Newsday. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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