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Baseball: NL playoffs

A late power surge

CARDS 6, ASTROS 4: St. Louis in control after Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen homer in eighth.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 15, 2004

ST. LOUIS - You know what really annoyed Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen? The rain.

Rolen said the team was told the steady, cold rain that had fallen all day Thursday would let up as Game 2 of the National League Championship Series progressed.

If anything, Rolen said, the rain got harder by the end of the game.

"But you've got 52,000 people sticking it out there for you," Rolen said. "I think we can stick it out if they can."

St. Louis did more than stick it out. It took the sellout crowd of 52,347 at Busch Stadium on a wild ride that ended with a dramatic 6-4 victory over the Astros and gave the team a two games to one lead in the best-of-seven series.

A nice place to be considering the next three games are at Minute Maid Park, where Houston has won 19 of its past 20 and has aces Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt scheduled to pitch Games 3 and 4.

"I don't think we're intimidated or down. We're just in a bad spot," Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg said. "You certainly don't want to leave this place oh-and-two, but we've played very well at home. We really feel confident. No one is moping around saying we can't do it."

But it will be extremely difficult if the Cardinals continue to brutalize the opposition's pitching and doing it much of the time with two outs.

St. Louis hit four home runs, including two by Rolen, the second of which came right behind Albert Pujols' leadoff blow in the eighth inning that broke a 4-4 tie.

It was Pujols' third home run in as many games. And when Rolen teed off, it was the first time the Cardinals hit back-to-back postseason home runs.

Rolen and Larry Walker hit two-run, two-out home runs in the fourth to overcome a 3-0 deficit. The Cardinals have scored 27 of their 38 postseason runs with two outs.

"I'm just routinely impressed," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "This is a team with a lot of fight in it and plays outstanding baseball. But the team we're playing against does so too. That's why there wasn't a lot of celebrating."

The Astros continued their mode of operation as well, hitting two home runs to raise their playoff total to 17 in seven games. Carlos Beltran's sixth, and second in as many games, gave Houston a 1-0 first-inning lead. Ensberg's first made it 2-0 in the fourth.

Ensberg also had a run-scoring single in the seventh that tied it at 4.

But then came Pujols, whose home run came on the third pitch he saw from Dan Miceli. Rolen, who entered the game 1-for-16, also went deep on the third pitch.

The game was difficult to read because of the weather. It was delayed 28 minutes because of a daylong rain. And the temperature was 48 degrees.

But Astros manager Phil Garner said the conditions were not a factor. "Maybe other than the pitchers weren't as sharp as they might have been. They might have had a little problem gripping the ball."

Cardinals starter Matt Morris had problems. He pitched five innings and allowed three runs on five hits with five walks, two wild pitches and a balk. But Astros starter Pete Munro did a good job of keeping the Cardinals in check. Though he had not pitched since Oct. 1, the right-hander shut out St. Louis for 42/3 innings on three hits while striking out four.

But then the Cardinals warmed up. Walker's fourth-inning blast made the score 3-2. And after Pujols followed with a single, Munro was relieved by Chad Harville, whose second pitch Rolen crushed into St. Louis' bullpen.

"We obviously want to get better at closing out innings," Garner said. "We've been pretty good about it but haven't been able to do it here so far. They're going to get us sometimes. It's going to come down to a couple of more games."

[Last modified October 15, 2004, 01:32:13]


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