- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

ST. LOUIS — Rain or shine, the St. Louis Cardinals’ big bats seem to come through in the end.

Albert Pujols led the eighth inning with a tiebreaking home run, Scott Rolen followed with his second homer of the game and the Cardinals stormed back to beat Houston 6-4 last night and take a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series.

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

Pujols and Rolen connected for the first consecutive home runs in the Cardinals’ long, proud postseason history. Larry Walker also homered, enough to offset yet another shot by Carlos Beltran and a homer by Morgan Ensberg for the Astros.

Now, the series shifts to Minute Maid Park for Game3 tomorrow, with Roger Clemens set to start for Houston against Jeff Suppan. If the Rocket can pull the Astros close, then 20-game winner Roy Oswalt will have a chance to even it in Game4.

Still, the Cardinals hold a commanding edge.

Of 61 clubs that have fallen behind 0-2 in a best-of-7 postseason baseball series, only 12 have come back to win.

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.

Rolen, nursing a strained left calf, was 0-for-14 in the postseason before hitting an RBI single in Game1.

He showed no ill effects in Game2, as he, 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.

Beltran’s sixth homer of the postseason helped the Astros to a 3-0 lead off Matt Morris.

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.

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 42/3 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.

Munro pitched in and out of trouble all night. Even so, he did a lot better than most people expected from a guy who began the season at Class AAA for Minnesota, was released in June, signed with the Astros and got sent back to the minors in August.

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 Game1.

With each swing this October, Beltran figures to get richer. He’s eligible for free agency after the postseason ends, and the Astros are expected to be among the bidders for the prime, five-tool player.

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, an inning that brought both managers onto the field.

Craig Biggio opened with a single and moved up on a balk by Morris that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa contested. After Jeff Bagwell walked with one out, Lance Berkman lined an RBI single over Pujols’ leap.

Pujols’ glove flew off when he jumped, and the mitt missed the ball. Still, Houston manager Phil 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.”

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