MLB Insiders - Eckstein Returns to Lineup

SS David Eckstein's name appeared among the starters on the Cardinals' lineup card Friday night for the first time since August 18, when he suffered a strained left oblique muscle. Eckstein's first-inning homer was the fourth leadoff homer of his career.

The Cardinals finally got that save chance they were looking for Friday night. They hadn't had one since Jason Isringhausen went out for the season on Sept. 6. Now, the Cardinals are looking for the save itself.

After Jason Marquis was scratched from his Friday start because of upper back spasms, he was replaced by Chris Narveson, who was making his first big-league start.

The 24-year-old Narveson twirled four effective innings, fanning six and giving up only two hits and two runs to the Houston Astros. Even more impressive was shortstop David Eckstein, who had a homer and two singles in his first start since Aug. 18 after recovering from a strained oblique muscle, and some airtight relief work -- until the last two innings.

But Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper each allowed two runs in the eighth and ninth innings as the Cardinals, almost incredibly, lost a one-run game for the 11th consecutive time on the road, falling 6-5 to the Astros.

For the second night in succession, the Cardinals blew a lead of three runs, and their "magic number" remained at five for clinching the NL Central title. And now, the Cardinals will be looking at Roy Oswalt on Saturday and Roger Clemens on Sunday.

However those games come out, the Cardinals won't have a chance to clinch the championship until they return to St. Louis Monday for the start of their last home stand.

REPLAY: Braden Looper, trying to record his first save of the season, took a 5-4 lead into the ninth inning Friday, but he allowed a run-scoring double to Orlando Palmeiro and a broken-bat single to Craig Biggio as the Houston Astros rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Cardinals.

The Cardinals wasted home runs by David Eckstein (No. 2), second baseman Ronnie Belliard (No. 3) and Chris Duncan (No. 19).

--RHP Jason Marquis was scratched Friday because of back spasms he incurred on Thursday, but is a candidate to pitch Saturday, said manager Tony La Russa. However, rookie RHP Anthony Reyes is the more likely starter against the Astros.

--CF Jim Edmonds' name was on Friday's lineup card as an extra man, but he didn't show up, still saying he was having difficulty with post-concussion syndrome and staying in St. Louis.

"The report (Thursday) was that he felt good during the workout (in St. Louis)," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He was going to see (Dr. George) Paletta and I said, 'If George clears you, I want you on the plane over here.' It's better to put him on the card than not.

"I don't see any reason -- if he's feeling good enough -- that he shouldn't be here. In a close game, he may able to play an inning of defense or take an at-bat."

But, according to later information La Russa received, Edmonds told Paletta he was still having "some fuzzy feelings."

--LF Chris Duncan's seventh-inning homer was his 16th after the All-Star break. That's the most by a Cardinals rookie after the break since 1B Albert Pujols hit 16 in 2001.

--After going 9-1, RHP Braden Looper has suffered two losses on this trip.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Number of consecutive one-run losses the Cardinals have suffered on the road as of Sept. 22.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "At some point, enough's enough. He did everything he could. It was just not working out. You could see it in his face. You could see it in his stuff and his delivery. I'm glad it's come to a conclusion. Let's get it right. It's hard enough to play this game healthy, let alone with one hip." -- RHP Chris Carpenter, talking about RHP Jason Isringhausen's decision to have hip surgery that ended his season.

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