Thursday, October 21, 2004

ST. LOUIS — Jim Edmonds skipped around the bases, jumping into a cluster of St. Louis Cardinals waiting for him at home plate.

Now waiting for all of them is Roger Clemens in an all-or-nothing Game 7.

Edmonds blasted a two-run homer in the 12th inning as the rejuvenated Cardinals turned Busch Stadium into a red frenzy by beating the Houston Astros 6-4 yesterday to even the National League Championship Series at 3-3.

“I finally get to play in a Game 7,” Edmonds said. “I think, how much better does it get? Game 7 vs. Roger Clemens.”

After Jeff Bagwell’s two-out single in the ninth off Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen tied it 4-4, Edmonds won it with a one-out shot off Dan Miceli.

Bagwell didn’t even bother watching as Edmonds’ shot sailed way over the St. Louis bullpen in right field. The star first baseman simply walked across the field while the Cardinals streamed out of the dugout.

“A very winnable game for us, so I’m disappointed,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “Haven’t given much thought to tomorrow’s game, only that I had scheduled the Rocket to go.”

Clemens came out of retirement for the sole purpose of pitching his hometown Astros into their first World Series. Now, the 42-year-old ace will get that chance tonight when he starts against former Boston teammate Jeff Suppan.

“What’s there to say?” Clemens said, excusing himself to go watch the Red Sox play New York in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. “We’ve got to win tomorrow.”

It will be will Clemens’ fourth career start in a Game 7. He’s 1-0 in those outings after getting knocked out early last year in the ALCS for the Yankees.

“I’ve never seen him pitch when he wasn’t tough to beat,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “It shapes up to be a terrific matchup.”

Cardinals right-hander Julian Tavarez went two innings for the victory. He pitched with a left hand that he broke in a dugout tantrum in Houston.

“It’s my understanding that it’s the fingers that are broken as opposed to the hand, so I’m not surprised. He did throw well,” Garner said.

The Cardinals won a postseason game in extra innings for the first time since the 1964 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Miceli came on after Astros superman Brad Lidge blew away St. Louis for three perfect innings, striking out five.

“Of course you want him out of there,” St. Louis’ Albert Pujols said.

Pujols drew a leadoff walk, and one out later Edmonds connected for his second homer of the NLCS.

Pujols got the Cardinals started with a two-run homer in the first off Pete Munro. The journeyman pitched so that Clemens would not have to work on three days’ rest.

The Cardinals took a 4-3 lead into the ninth, but Isringhausen immediately put himself in jeopardy by hitting pinch-hitter Morgan Ensberg leading off. A bunt moved Ensberg to second and Craig Biggio hit a fly ball for the second out.

That brought up the marvelous Carlos Beltran, and the Cardinals huddled on the mound. A big cheer broke out in the sellout crowd of 52,144 when catcher Mike Matheny signaled for an intentional walk.

Bagwell foiled the strategy, hitting a hard RBI single on the first pitch. After a double steal, Isringhausen managed to keep it tied by striking out Lance Berkman.

In the bottom half, Lidge retired the first two batters before throwing a fastball over the head of Edmonds.

La Russa came out of the dugout to discuss the pitch with plate umpire Ed Rapuano. Before the game, the manager angrily confronted baseball disciplinarian Bob Watson behind the batting cage, steamed that Tavarez was fined $10,000 for a pitch over Bagwell’s helmet in Game 4.

“The only thing I was upset about was MLB made this ridiculous ruling about Tavarez,” La Russa said.

After hitting only .161 in three straight losses at Minute Maid Park, the Cardinals quickly found their stroke at Busch Stadium.

Pujols put St. Louis ahead with his sixth homer of the postseason, a two-run shot, and later added a double and single. He scored twice and was nailed at the plate another time when he ran through a coach’s stop sign.

Beltran, continuing to build his October resume, hit two balls off the right-field wall and both times was held to a single by right fielder Larry Walker’s fast relay. Beltran scored twice, and his 20 runs broke Barry Bonds’ postseason record of 18 in 2002.

Mike Lamb, starting at third base in place of the struggling Ensberg, hit a solo homer off Matt Morris in the fourth that made it 4-3.

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