NLCS Game Four Sunday – Astros 2-1

In Game 4 of the NLCS, the Cardinals were defeated by the Houston Astros by a 2-1 mark Sunday afternoon.

The St. Louis Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros by a 2-1 score at Minute Maid Park Sunday afternoon. In the process, the Astros took the lead in the best of seven series at three games to one.

Jeff Suppan opposed Brandon Backe. Suppan came in well-rested, having not faced enemy batters since September 25. Both pitched well, as each allowed just a single run. Jason Marquis, who took over for Suppan in the sixth, allowed the winning run in the seventh without the benefit of a hit.

The offense was again missing in action, as they generated just six hits, four until the ninth, when they had the tying run at third with no out and failed to score. Albert Pujols had a sacrifice fly, but was easily tagged out at the plate trying to score the tying run in the ninth.

Both Tony La Russa and Jim Edmonds were ejected from the game by inconsistent home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

Not so hot
Saturday's loss by Matt Morris dropped his record to 0-3 in seven career NLCS games (five starts).

Always hot
Through Saturday, Albert Pujols has hit safely in 14 of 15 career games in the NLCS, going 23-for-58 (.397).

Well-prepared announcers
Was I the only one who noticed on Saturday when Fox' Steve "Psycho" Lyons proclaimed that Brad Thompson will be in the Cardinals rotation soon?

How close is it?
The Astros and Cardinals have been involved in six one run games (including postseason) against each other this year. Each team is 3-3 in those games.

New and old
Tim McCarver turns 64 today, while Anthony Reyes celebrates his 24th.

Funky Cold Medina, er… Molina
The Fox game producer needs to explain their graphics to the on-air "talent" ahead of time. When photos of the Molina brothers was shown, none of the three had any idea what the graphic title "Funky Cold Molinas" was referring to. ("Funky Cold Medina" is a Tone Loc song from about 15 years ago and is also a popular mixed drink.)

Sunday's lineup
Eckstein, Edmonds, Pujols, Walker, Sanders, Mabry, Molina, Grudz and Suppan.

On to the game…

Cards first – Rough start
Eckstein did his job expertly, leading off with a full-count walk. Edmonds worked the count to 2-2 before grounding into a double play. Pujols just missed a home run, as it went just outside the left field foul pole. He fanned on a check swing on the next pitch.

Astros first – 1-2-3
Mabry received his first test on the very first batter, as he handled Biggio's sharply-hit grounder.

Cards second – Nothing happening
Sanders worked a full count with one out before taking a called strike three on the outside edge of the plate. Mabry also whiffed without ever putting bat on ball.

Astros second – Two hits
In between singles by Berkman and Lane, Lamb fanned. Then, Ausmus also struck out and Everett ground into a fielders' choice.

Cards third – Time to worry?
Down in order again.

Astros third – Two walks
After two outs, Burke drew a walk. Berkman went to a full count before taking ball four. Molina came out for a chat. On 1-2 against Ensberg, Molina visited the mound again. An inning-ended grounder ensued with the next pitch.

Cards fourth – Lead taken
After Eckstein drew a leadoff walk, Edmonds went the other way, doubling into the left field corner. Oquendo held Eckstein up at third with no out. After almost fanning a second time, Pujols went down and shot a ball to right. The sac fly scored the run but Edmonds had to hold at second. Walker took a free pass to put two on. After taking a few questionable strikes, Sanders fanned swinging. That hurt. Cards 1-0.

Astros fourth – Cheap juice box dinger
Again, the lead didn't last long. Lane homered with the ball barely reaching the box seats in short left with one out. Tie 1-1.

Cards fifth – Nada
Another 1-2-3 for Backe at the bottom of the line-up.

Astros fifth – Reggie shows his gun
Biggio drew a one-out walk. Burke flied to short left. Sanders made a strong throw and almost nabbed Biggio trying to return to first. As Ray King began to warm up, Suppan collected the final out. Soup has thrown 93 pitches so far.

Cards sixth – Lotsa grumbling
Eckstein fanned on a check swing and argued like Sanders did earlier. Berkman dropped a catchable foul ball down the left field line off the bat of Edmonds as Ensberg converged on the ball. Edmonds fanned on three pitches, the last two looking. Backe has seven strikeouts so far. Pujols came up again with the bases empty. He singled to left. Surprisingly to me, Garner pulled Backe from the game in favor of lefty Mike Gallo with the struggling Larry Walker coming up. Backe left the game after only 81 pitches. One Gallo pitch and an inning-ending ground out 4-3 ensued.

Astros sixth – Marquis bends
La Russa went to Jason Marquis to finish the game. Ensberg started with a sharp single to left. Lamb flied out to center on one pitch as Ensberg faked an attempt to tag up. Lane drew a five-pitch walk as Marquis wore a disgusted look on his face. I hope he just focuses on throwing strikes. On 0-2 to Ausmus, Molina called Eckstein in to meet on the mound. Ausmus took strike three right down the center of the plate. Everett again hit a grounder to short for what would be the third out.

Cards seventh – Another 1-2-3
Chad Qualls took over and mowed down the Cards in order.

Astros seventh – No hits, La Russa run, Astros run
Pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro drew a leadoff walk. Biggio bunted, but Marquis mishandled it as both runners were safe. Burke flied out to left after trying to bunt on only the first pitch. Upon reaching the dugout, Burke pounded the bat rack in frustration. Marquis pitched Berkman carefully, walking him on four pitches to load the bases. La Russa yelled at home plate ump Phil Cuzzi, who yelled right back and ejected La Russa in the process. Tim McClelland, the crew chief, continued to move between La Russa and Cuzzi for several minutes until La Russa finally stormed off the field. Phil Garner then came out for his own chat with the umps and inserted speedy Willy Taveras as the pinch runner at third. Ensberg's sac fly gave Houston the lead. Biggio did not take third on the throw home. A fly ball to Sanders was the third out, but the damage was done without the benefit of a hit. Astros 2-1.

Cards eighth – Falling apart
Dan Wheeler is pitching. Grudz singled leading off. Marquis failed miserably trying to bunt, popping out to Ausmus. Eckstein flied out to left. Edmonds took a high inside pitch which was clearly ball four. Cuzzi ejected Edmonds for complaining about the called strike. John Rodriguez took over with the full count and perhaps the season on the line. He fouled off two pitches before hitting a fly ball to Taveras on that stupid hill in center, well over 400 feet away. That would have been a home run most anyplace else, but here it was the third out.

Astros eighth – More trouble averted
Two 6-3's occurred before Everett and Taveras each singled. Biggio popped out to end the threat.

Cards ninth – Ouch!
Leading off against closer Brad Lidge, Pujols singled to center. Taveras played it safe. The ball bounced off him, but didn't go far enough to allow Pujols to take second. Walker singled past first base on a full count to put runners at the corners. Sanders hit a chopper to Ensberg, who threw home. Ausmus easily tagged Pujols out. Why in the world he took off for home with no out is beyond me. Walker alertly took third when no one called time out. However, Sanders stayed at first. That will turn out to be huge. John Mabry had a chance to be a hero. Unfortunately, he instead ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 that was extremely close at first base.

Upcoming action (times CDT) – Projected starters
Monday: NLCS Game 5 at Minute Maid: Chris Carpenter vs. Andy Pettitte
Wednesday: NLCS Game 6 at Busch (if necessary): Mulder vs. Oswalt
Thursday: NLCS Game 7 at Busch (if necessary): Morris vs. Clemens
For game times and broadcast schedules: link

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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