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Baseball: NL playoffs

Astros go yard but Cards go up

CARDS 10, ASTROS 7: St. Louis' potent offense plays small ball to take Game 1.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 14, 2004

ST. LOUIS - Tony Womack clearly didn't understand all the fuss.

St. Louis had just beaten the Astros 10-7 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium, and the talk was about how a power-laden team chipped its opposition into little pieces.

Small ball was the phrase being thrown around the locker room. Womack did not want to hear it.

"We just try to play baseball for nine innings," Womack said. "We don't look at it as big ball, small ball, medium ball. We just look at it like playing baseball."

But there was no denying the Cardinals' six-run sixth that broke up a 4-4 tie was out of character for a team known for its heavy-hitting ways.

Of St. Louis' five hits in the inning, four were not hard hit nor left the ground and two came off broken bats. Okay, so Jim Edmonds three-run, two-out double that capped the inning was more typical Cardinals.

But you've got to like a team that, as Womack said, "takes what they give you."

"Give them credit," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "They put the ball in play."

A good thing too because Houston played its part perfectly.

The Astros, who hit a division-series record 11 home runs against the Braves, hit four against St. Louis, including two-run home runs by Carlos Beltran, his fifth of the playoffs, Jeff Kent and Lance Berkman. Mike Lamb hit one solo.

Albert Pujols hit a two-run home run for St. Louis. Larry Walker had three hits, including a triple. Scott Rolen broke an 0-for-14 stretch in the playoffs with a run-scoring single that tied the game at 4 in the fifth inning.

And winning pitcher Woody Williams, who went six innings and allowed four runs on four hits with five strikeouts, chipped in with a double as the Cardinals snapped a five-game losing streak at home in NLCS games.

"They're going to play nine innings," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of his players. "Nothing shakes them up. We like to get ahead and play nine. We fall behind and play nine. That's what I admire about this team."

The sixth inning was the key, and fault Chad Qualls, who relieved former Devil Ray Brandon Backe in the fifth and took the loss.

After Edgar Renteria singled up the middle. Reggie Sanders had a broken bat single to the same place. Mike Matheny put down a sacrifice bunt. Roger Cedeno scored a run with a ground out to first base that might or might not have rolled foul had not Jeff Bagwell fielded it.

Womack's dribbler through the middle scored a run as did Walker's broken-bat infield hit that came with a throwing error on Astros shortstop Jose Vizcaino. It all set up Edmonds, whose two hits helped put aside a disappointing 4-for-15 performance in the division series against the Dodgers.

"You don't have to live with the long ball," Pujols said. "When you're in the postseason you want to make sure you do the little things; get the guy over when you need to, get him in, get a good pitch, put the baseball on the bat."

"That's why this is a beautiful game," Garner said. "You can hit the ball well, and we did. It was a tough inning for us. That's the way things go sometimes."

Then there was Bagwell, who seemed to pick up Cedeno's roller as it was going to go foul. Garner, though, would not fault his star.

"I've had those balls kick fair and go down the line for a double," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. I wouldn't second-guess Baggy on that."

A big win, right? Womack reiterated size doesn't matter.

"It's nice to get W's," he said. "At the same time our plan is to win the series. It's a long way to go. We took a step in that direction."

[Last modified October 14, 2004, 01:26:07]


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