Game Observations – Fri. 9/22 – Astros 6-5

At Minute Maid Park Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals lost the second in their road series to the Houston Astros by the same 6-5 score as Thursday evening. Braden Looper blew the save and took the loss and Adam Wainwright allowed two runs in the eighth. The 80-72 Cards' lead over the Astros in the NL Central Division is 5.5 games as their magic number remains stuck at five.

Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Narveson allowed two runs on two hits and two walks in four innings. He struck out six in his major league debut. Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson each pitched effective stints. Adam Wainwright allowed two runs in the eighth to let the Astros close the gap to one run, then new closer Braden Looper took the blown save and loss in the ninth.

The offense was paced by the return of David Eckstein, who counted a home run among his three hits. Chris Duncan and Ron Belliard also homered. Scott Spiezio had a two-run triple.

One year ago today
On September 22, 2005, Matt Morris delivered six solid innings, but the Reds rallied for five runs in their eighth, sending the Cardinals to a 5-2 defeat at Great American Ballpark. Mark Grudzielanek paced the Redbirds offense with three hits and Jim Edmonds and Yadier Molina had RBI hits in the loss.

The match-up
Chris Narveson (0-0, 4.50) vs. Jason Hirsh (3-4, 5.59). Originally-scheduled Cards starter Jason Marquis was scratched with back spasms, so the lefty Narveson, a starter in the minors, was tabbed.

The line-up
Eckstein, Duncan (RF), Pujols, Spiezio (LF), Rolen, Encarnacion (CF), Belliard, Molina and Narveson.
In: David Eckstein, Chris Duncan.
Out: Preston Wilson, Aaron Miles.
Eckstein celebrated his return to the starting line-up for the first time since August 18.

On to the game…

Cards first – The Mighty Eck
Some return. David Eckstein began the game with his second home run of the season, out to left. Cards 1-0.

Astros first – The other leadoff guy
The aged, er ageless, Craig Biggio led off with a double. As Morgan Ensberg fanned, Biggio stole third and scored on a Lance Berkman ground out. Luke Scott walked but Jason Lane flied out. Tie 1-1.

Cards second – Lead re-taken
Ron Belliard shot a two-out solo home run to left field. Cards 2-1.

Astros second – Down in order
Three up and three down.

Cards third – Pujols and Rolen fail
Eckstein singled with one out and Duncan followed with a walk. Before flying out, Pujols took a bad called strike two made by notorious home plate ump Angel Hernandez. Spiezio worked a walk to load the bases. Chris Sampson quickly warmed up in the bullpen. But, after going 3-0, Rolen popped up on a full-count pitch.

Astros third – Tied again
Morgan Ensberg slammed a two-out solo home run into the tricked-up Crawford Boxes in left. Tie 2-2.

Cards fourth – Hirsh getting stronger?
The Cards went down in order.

Astros fourth – Three down roughly
Narveson fanned Scott for his fifth K of the game before walking Jason Lane. Another strikeout led to Lane getting caught in an inning-ending rundown.

Cards fifth – Third big fly doubles lead
Jose Vizcaino pinch hit for Narveson. He just missed a home run deep to right before whiffing on a high pitch. Eckstein collected his third hit of the game, this one to right. That ended the game for Hirsh, but it wasn't over for him. Both his runs scored on a triple by Scott Spiezio. Cards 4-2.

Astros fifth – Three ground outs
Josh Kinney pitched.

Cards sixth – Lights on
Former closer Brad Lidge retired the Cardinals in order.

Astros sixth – Flores spells relief
Ensberg singled off the scoreboard in right. Now they want to turn Berkman around and called on Randy Flores to pitch. He came up big, fanning both Berkman and Scott.

Cards seventh – Lidge lit
Chris Duncan put a cheap shot of his own into the Crawford Boxes with two out. In a rare occurrence, Pujols fanned, his 45th of the season, while he has 46 home runs. Cards 5-2.

Astros seventh – Adam's on it
Adam Wainwright fanned two – Mike Lamb and Chris Burke – on the way to a 1-2-3 inning.

Cards eighth – Nieve not nice
Fernando Nieve fanned Spiezio to start and Encarnacion to end his own perfect inning.

Astros eighth – Wainwright wounded, Johnson comes through
Wainwright got into trouble as Orlando Palmeiro and Eric Bruntlett started off with singles. The runners moved up when a ball bounced off Molina's chest and his throw to third was off-line. Both runners scored on the next pitch as Biggio singled to center on a 3-2 curveball. Wainwright was kept in the game and he fanned Ensberg on a wicked curve. Tyler Johnson came in to take on Berkman. His first pitch was shot into right for a single. Chris Duncan bobbled the ball for an error, allowing Biggio to take third. Runners were on the corners with one out for Scott, who struck out. On a 3-2 count to Lamb, Johnson twice shook off the pitch called from the bench. After Molina came out to the mound, Johnson induced an inning-ending 4-3. Cards 5-4.

Cards ninth – No insurance bought
Chad Qualls was asked to hold the Cards to their one-run lead. Belliard led off with a sharp single into the left center gap. A hit-and-run on the first pitch failed as Molina missed and Belliard was thrown out at second base. After Molina grounded out, former Astro Preston Wilson generated more boos as he singled. Eckstein grounded out 4-3 to end the at-bats.

Astros ninth – Save and game blown
Surrogate closer Braden Looper came on. Oddly, Duncan and Taguchi swapped positions defensively. Let's hope the ball doesn't find Duncan, now that he is in left. Everett singled to right with one out. The lefty Palmeiro got to hit against Looper since all three of La Russa's lefties have been spent. It backfired as the double got stuck underneath padding down the left field line and the tying run scored. With the lefty Aubrey Huff up and first base open with one out, Looper still pitched to him. Palmeiro took third on a ground out. Biggio ended the game on a hit to left. Astros 6-5.

In conclusion
Emergency starter Narveson kept his team in the game. With the exception of Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper, three other bullpen pitchers did very well. Especially notable was Tyler Johnson's two outs in the eighth. Scott Spiezio's two-run triple was huge. As is often the case, Chris Duncan had an important at-bat but also struggled with the glove. His homer would have been the margin of victory, but his error almost let the Astros back in. Of course, we had to wait until Looper came in for that.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Sat., Sept. 23 @ Astros: Anthony Reyes (5-7, 4.92) vs. Roy Oswalt (14-8, 3.05) 6:05 p.m. CW11
Sun., Sept. 24 @ Astros: Jeff Weaver (7-14, 5.84 overall; 4-4, 5.27 w/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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