Game Observations – Thu. 9/21 – Astros 6-5

The St. Louis Cardinals lost the first in their road series to the Houston Astros by a 6-5 score Thursday evening at Minute Maid Park. Chris Carpenter served up a pair of home runs to Lance Berkman, including the one that cost the game. The 80-71 Cards' lead over the Astros and Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central Division is 6.5 games as their magic number remains five.

Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter was not in Cy Young form, allowing a pair of home runs to Lance Berkman, including the game-winner in the eighth inning. He yielded all six runs on nine hits and no walks. He fanned just five, tying his lowest output since his last loss on August 4th, ten starts ago. The Astros were incredibly efficient, stranding just one baserunner all game.

The offense stranded only five runners with all five runs scoring in the first five innings against Andy Pettitte. Because of a porous Astros defense, just one of the five runs was earned. Albert Pujols and Ron Belliard (double) had the only RBI. Reliever Dave Borkowski earned the win with three perfect innings and Dan Wheeler finished up.

One year ago today
On September 21, 2005, Jason Marquis earned his fourth win in his most recent five tries and David Eckstein and So Taguchi powered home runs as the Cards got by the Reds, 5-1 at Great American Ballpark. Albert Pujols had three hits in the win, lifting his batting average to .337. Larry Walker delivered his third game-winning RBI of the road trip with double in the first inning.

The joke's on who?
With a beautiful evening, 73 degrees at game time, the Astros kept the Minute Maid roof closed, furthering their reputation as creating the most tricked up, joke of a ballpark in the major leagues. Win or lose, that place makes me ill.

The match-up
Chris Carpenter (15-6, 2.79) vs. Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.37).

The line-up
Wilson (RF), Spiezio (LF), Pujols, Encarnacion (CF), Rolen, Belliard, Molina, Miles and Carpenter.
Out: Chris Duncan.
In: Scott Rolen.
Wilson moved the leadoff spot as Miles dropped to #8. Scott Spiezio went from #5 to #2.

On to the game…

Cards first – Two on
With one out, Spiezio and Pujols walked. But, neither Encarnacion nor Rolen could solve Pettitte.

Astros first – Twin killing
With one out, Mike Lamb singled just to the right of the diving Miles. Lance Berkman grounded into a 6-3 double play.

Cards second – Worm burning
Three ground outs kept the infield busy.

Astros second – Three down
A nine-pitch inning for Carp.

Cards third – Carp starts trouble
Leading off, Carpenter singled into the left field corner. When Luke Scott bobbled the ball, a regular baserunner would have taken second base. But, Carp's job is to pitch. He moved up to second when Wilson singled to center. It could have been a run scored and an RBI. Spiezio hit a comebacker, but Craig Biggio muffed Pettitte's throw. Instead of a double play, the Astros put one run in and one on each corner and still need three outs. Pujols did ground into that double play as Wilson came home. Encarnacion flailed wildly on a pitch above his shoulders, striking out in the process. Cards 2-0.

Astros third – See how they run
Three ground outs.

Cards fourth – Balking the balk
Ron Belliard doubled into the left field corner after the ball nicked off Mike Lamb's glove at third base with one out. Pettitte intended to appeal that Belliard missed first base, but did not step off the rubber first before throwing to first. It was correctly called a balk, moving the runner to third. The Astros then tried to appeal again, but the balk was considered a play, which removed their right to appeal the earlier play. A wild pitch on ball four to Molina allowed Belliard to come home. Miles and Carpenter grounded out to end the inning. Cards 3-0.

Astros fourth – Two-out trouble
With two down, Lamb singled to left. Lance Berkman then homered to left. It was his 42nd of the season, so Carp is certainly not the only victim. Cards 3-2.

Cards fifth – Small ball
Lamb erred, allowing Wilson to reach leading off. A Spiezio single to center on a hit and run put runners at the corners. With a 1-2 count on Pujols, the Astros trainer came out to check Pettitte as the bullpen began to stir. Pujols blasted a line drive off the wall in right. It was a long RBI single. Spiezio only advanced one base, as he apparently hesitated to ensure the ball was not caught. Encarnacion hit a scorcher to Lamb at third on another hit and run. Spiezio smartly avoided the tag, leaving a throw to first to get one out the only option. Rolen was intentionally walked to load the bases for Belliard, who sent a sharply-hit one hopper to third. Lamb bobbled the ball, took the force at third, but his throw was a split-second late to first. Molina flied out. Cards 5-2.

Astros fifth – Two right back
Burke doubled into left leading off. Adam Everett legged out an infield single, but Burke did not advance. Brad Ausmus sacrificed the runners up. Former Card Orlando Palmeiro pinch hit for Pettitte. He singled in two runs. Carp started a double play to get out of it without more trouble. Cards 5-4.

Cards sixth – New pitcher, better result
Dave Borkowski pitched. Carp and Wilson fanned to end it.

Astros sixth – RISP held
Berkman doubled on a one hopper to the wall in left center with one out. He was stranded.

Cards seventh – Pinch hit for this guy
Borkowski is making Pettitte look weak with six straight outs.

Astros seventh – Carp hanging on
Carp picked up his fourth strikeout of the night on the way to a 1-2-3 inning.

Cards eighth – Get him outta here!
Borkowski completed his 0-for-9 romp through the Cards line-up.

Astros eighth – Carp burned
Morgan Ensberg dropped a leadoff pinch-hit single to right. Biggio sacrificed the runner into scoring position. Charlton Jimerson pinch ran. Carpenter was angered when the home plate ump called time as he was making a pitch to Berkman. The next throw home left the park. Berkman now has six home runs against Carp, the player with the most against him in all of baseball. Wonder why La Russa didn't know that? Or, did he and just ignore it? Astros 6-5.

Cards ninth – Last chance wasn't
Dan Wheeler, not Brad Lidge, took over. John Rodriguez hit for Carp with one out and didn't get the ball out of the infield. Chris Duncan, hitting for Wilson, was the last chance. He fanned swinging.

In conclusion
Lance Berkman looked like the MVP candidate on this night as Borkowski was awesome in relief. Pettitte didn't have it, but frankly, neither did Carpenter. La Russa clearly stayed with him too long because he is Chris Carpenter. Maybe these games don't really matter, but it would have been really nice to win the first of four in a road series with your ace going. Jason Marquis tomorrow and Roy Oswalt the next day is far from encouraging. Could it come down to Jeff Weaver vs. what may be Roger Clemens' final game (again!) on Sunday to avoid a sweep? God help the Cards!

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Fri., Sept. 22 @ Astros: Jason Marquis (14-15, 5.82) vs. Jason Hirsh (3-4, 5.59) 6:05 p.m.WB11/ESPN
Sat., Sept. 23 @ Astros: Anthony Reyes (5-7, 4.92) vs. Roy Oswalt (14-8, 3.05) 6:05 p.m. WB11
Sun., Sept. 24 @ Astros: Jeff Weaver (7-14, 5.84 overall, 4-4, 5.27 in StL) vs. Roger Clemens (7-5, 2.37) 7:05 p.m. ESPN

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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