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Archive for Friday, October 15, 2004

Rolen, Pujols power Cards to 2-0 lead

October 15, 2004

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— Scott Rolen and the St. Louis Cardinals sure stormed back in a hurry.

Rolen hit two home runs, combining with Albert Pujols for back-to-back shots in the eighth inning that sent the Cardinals past the Houston Astros, 6-4, on a miserable Thursday night for a 2-0 lead in the NL championship series.

After Pujols led off with a tiebreaking shot, the recently slumping Rolen connected in a cold rain. The drives gave the Cardinals consecutive homers for the first time in their long, proud postseason history.

"I don't know what my postseason numbers are, but tonight I contributed to help us win a ballgame," Rolen said.

Nursing a strained left calf, the All-Star third baseman was 0-for-14 in this year's playoffs before an RBI single in Game 1. So what did his teammates say to him after this performance?

"About damn time," Rolen said, laughing.

The weather was awful all evening, with drizzle delaying the start for almost a half-hour and lasting through the final pitch. But in the end, despite temperatures falling into the mid-40s, no one in the sellout crowd at Busch Stadium was complaining.

Larry Walker also homered for St. Louis in a series dominated by the sluggers. Carlos Beltran hit his sixth homer of the postseason and Morgan Ensberg also homered as the wild-card Astros took a 3-0 lead.

"The good thing is this isn't a two-game series," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "We're not where we want to be certainly, but we'll work this thing out."

St. Louis slugger Scott Rolen follows through on the first of his
two home runs against Houston. Rolen helped the Cardinals edge
Houston, 6-4, in Game 2 of the National League championship series
on Thursday in St. Louis.

St. Louis slugger Scott Rolen follows through on the first of his two home runs against Houston. Rolen helped the Cardinals edge Houston, 6-4, in Game 2 of the National League championship series on Thursday in St. Louis.

Roger Clemens will start Game 3 Saturday when the series shifts to Minute Maid Park, facing Jeff Suppan. If the Rocket can pull the Astros close, then 20-game winner Roy Oswalt will have a chance to even it in Game 4.

"Those guys have been our horses all year, and we'll turn to them now and ask them to do what they've been doing all year, and that's win for us," Garner said.

Still, the Cardinals hold a commanding edge.

Of 61 clubs that have fallen behind 0-2 in a best-of-seven postseason baseball series, only 12 have come back to win.

"Of course we've been playing four months in a bad spot, so we're in a very familiar area," Ensberg said.

Julian Tavarez got the victory in relief. Jason Isringhausen worked around two walks in the ninth, getting Ensberg on a long fly out to finish for his second save of the NLCS.

Dan Miceli took the loss as the Astros' bullpen continued to falter. He took over to begin the eighth and gave up home runs to the first two batters he faced.

For a while, it looked as if the game might not be played. It rained all day, and there were puddles in front of the Houston dugout when it began.

Pitchers often kicked mud out of their cleats and blew on their hands. Garner, however, said the weather was not that big a factor.

"It didn't appear to affect it," he said.

Rolen and Walker hit two-run homers that put St. Louis ahead 4-3 in the fifth. Rolen was the first batter Chad Harville faced after he relieved journeyman starter Pete Munro.

Houston later made it 4-all in the seventh when Lance Berkman doubled, stole third and scored when Ensberg grounded a single past the drawn-in infield. The tying hit off Kiko Calero came against an especially odd backdrop.

During the at-bat, fireworks exploded high beyond the left-field roof. They came from the riverboat Becky Thatcher, which someone had commissioned for a party on the nearby Mississippi.

Calero backed off the mound, Ensberg stepped out of the box, and fans cheered the multicolor show. Coincidentally, the Cardinals stopped shooting off fireworks after home runs this season because they posed a danger to construction workers building the team's new stadium set to open in 2006.

The Cardinals were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position before Walker delivered the big hit they needed. The slugger completed his cycle, albeit a day later -- he tripled, doubled and singled in a 10-7 win in the opener.

After that, it was Rolen's turn.

"The homers are great, but if you can get one or two fall in here or there you can get some confidence," Rolen said.

Munro gave the Astros exactly what they needed, at least for a while. But like unheralded Brandon Backe in the opener, Munro was pulled after 4 2-3 innings with a one-run lead, falling one out shy of qualifying for the win.

And for the second straight day, the Houston bullpen quickly gave away the edge.

Beltran homered on the third pitch of the game, lining a shot into the right-field box seats. He hit a drive into almost the identical spot in the first inning in Game 1.

Ensberg made it 2-0 with a leadoff shot in the fourth. That marked the Astros' ninth run of this NLCS, all of them coming on six homers.

Houston finally found another way to score in the fifth when Berkman lined an RBI single over Pujols' leap at first base.

Pujols' glove flew off when he jumped, and the mitt missed the ball. Still, Garner wanted to be sure it was called correctly -- and it was.

Rule 7.05 (c) specifies that runners get to advance three bases if a fielder deliberately throws his glove and hits a fair ball. But the rules also spell out there is no penalty if the glove misses, or if it "flies off his hand as he makes an obvious effort to make a legitimate catch."

Later, Pujols made a sensational play on a bunt to cut down a runner at third.

Notes: Pujols hit his fourth homer of the postseason. ... LF umpire Ed Rapuano left in the second inning because of dizziness. He was examined by a doctor. ... It was 48 degrees at gametime, the coldest start in a postseason game since it was 46 for Game 5 of the 1997 World Series at Cleveland.

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