Game Observations – Sun. 9/24 – Astros 7-3

On Sunday night, the St. Louis Cardinals lost 7-3 for a four-game sweep by the Houston Astros. Jeff Weaver held Roger Clemens to a standoff, but umpire Angel Hernandez blew a call that led to the winning runs. The Cards' roadtrip ended at 1-6. Their 80-74 record is only the fifth-best in the NL. The Cards' lead over the Astros is down to 3.5 games as their magic number remains stuck at five.

Cardinals starting pitcher Jeff Weaver pitched decently, but Roger Clemens pitched better when he was in the game. Fortunately, his teammates got him two runs to tie the game after Clemens left. Weaver went six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks. He fanned five. After the Hernandez non-call, Randy Flores was charged with four runs and took the loss.

The offense did some damage once Clemens was out of the game, but stalled in the final frames. Albert Pujols had a pair of singles and an intentional walk while Chris Duncan had a pair of walks and a single. Ron Belliard, Scott Rolen and John Rodriguez had one RBI each. It was the Astros' first ever four-game sweep of the Cards.

One year ago today
On September 24, 2005, a seven-run second inning sent Mark Mulder to the showers early as he suffered his shortest career outing to that date (1-2/3 innings) in an 8-7 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park. Chris Duncan collected his first career hit with a two-run double in the ninth as the Cards rallied with four runs in their final at-bat. Anthony Reyes worked four solid innings in relief, allowing just one run.

The match-up
Jeff Weaver (7-14, 5.84 overall; 4-4, 5.27 w/StL) vs. Roger Clemens (7-5, 2.37), working on three days rest. Whether it is Clemens' last home start or last career start or just the last start of this week is unknown, but of course, the networks will milk the moment to death.

The line-up
Eckstein, Duncan (RF), Pujols, Rolen, Rodriguez (LF), Encarnacion (CF), Miles (2B), Molina and Weaver.

On to the game…

Cards first – Coulda been better
Duncan blooped a long single between the left and center fielders. Pujols singled to left on the first pitch he saw. Rolen singled sharply on a 2-0 count with a one-hopper off the scoreboard in left to score the first run. John Rodriguez grounded into an inning-ending double play. Cards 1-0.

Astros first – Threat turned back
Duncan collected the first out on a fly by Craig Biggio. Will someone please teach Duncan how to catch the ball with two hands? Mike Lamb followed with a double into the left field corner. Rodriguez made a strong throw, at least. With first base open, Berkman walked, though Weaver is working with what looks to be a narrow strike zone. Luke Scott popped out to second and Aubrey Huff grounded out.

Cards second – Runner to third
Encarnacion flared a single into right leading off. He took second on a hit and run, as Miles almost legged it out. Molina's ground out put the runner at third. Weaver fanned for the third out.

Astros second – Leadoff single wasted
Leading off, Chris Burke singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. Brad Ausmus grounded into a force out for the second out. Clemens then fanned.

Cards third – Big guys K
Duncan walked with one out. Pujols fanned on a cutter in the dirt. It was his 48th strikeout of the season in 503 at-bats. Rolen took strike three looking for the third out.

Astros third – Pujols shines with the glove
Bggio singled just over Miles leading off. On the next pitch, Pujols started a 3-6-3 double play off a hard one-hopper by Mike Lamb.

Cards fourth – Sit down
Clemens polished off the Cards on only nine pitches. Rodriguez fanned to start and Miles did the same to end it.

Astros fourth – Bottom of order nicks Weaver
For the third inning in a row, Houston put their leadoff man on base as Scott doubled. Huff walked. Burke fanned. #8 hitter Brad Ausmus doubled a 3-1 offering into the left field corner past a diving Rolen. Rodriguez overthrew the cut-off man Eckstein, ensuring the second run scored uncontested. Astros 2-1.

Cards fifth – Clemens cruising
Nothing resembling a baserunner.

Astros fifth – Another run
Jose Vizcaino came into the game for Eckstein, who strained his hamstring. Lamb hit a one-hopper off the wall in center. The ball's backspin rolled it up the silly hill. By the time Encarnacion could get it, the runner arrived at third with a triple. Berkman brought home the run with a sacrifice fly deep to left (as deep as any ball can go in this park). Astros 3-1.

Cards sixth – Clemens out, run in
Clemens was allowed to take the mound to warm up and was then relieved to a rousing ovation from the Houston fans. Wandy Rodriguez walked Duncan and Brad Lidge came in to face his nemesis, Pujols, who singled to right. Rolen fanned in three pitches for the first out. Rodriguez singled past Berkman on his first pitch scored Duncan and allowed Pujols to take third. Astros 3-2.

Astros sixth – Leadoff single wasted
Huff singled, but Burke and Everett each struck out.

Cards seventh – No decision for Weaver and Clemens
Molina drew a leadoff walk. John Nelson ran for him. Lidge departed as Scott Spiezio pinch hit for Weaver. The Astros turned him around to face the lefty Trever Miller. Spiezio singled to right to put runners on the corners. Ron Belliard hit for Vizcaino and brought the run in as he almost legged out an infield single. Duncan looked bad, striking out against the lefty. Why did La Russa let him hit here, given his mediocre results against lefties? Pujols took an intentional walk. Chad Qualls came in to face Rolen, who was out 6-3. Tie 3-3.

Astros seventh – More umpiring controversy
Duncan left the game as Spiezio stayed in. Eric Bruntlett greeted Josh Hancock with a double into the left field corner. Biggio legged out a bunt single to put runners at the corners. With the lefty Lamb coming in, Randy Flores took the ball. Morgan Ensberg pinch-hit and fanned swinging on a breaking ball. Berkman hit a grounder to Belliard, who tried to tag Biggio. The runner avoided the tag but touched the grass, which meant the Cards could only get the runner at first. The ESPN commentators agreed with a livid La Russa that it should have been called an inning-ending double play. In fact, Joe Morgan is a Hall-of-Famer and former Houston second baseman, yet was emphatic in his belief. Instead, the lead run scored. The second base umpire is the controversial Angel Hernandez and refused to ask the other umps for help. Huff put the dagger into the Cards chest as his three-run home run went out to right. Brad Thompson took over on the mound to get the final out. Astros 7-3.

Cards eighth – Running out of time
Qualls cut down three more hitters.

Astros eighth – Too late
Bruntlett reached on an infield single to Miles deep at short, but Thompson fanned the side.

Cards ninth – Wheeled over
Dan Wheeler collected the final three outs. Belliard at least made it interesting, doubling off Ensberg's glove with two out. Preston Wilson took a called strike three to end the game.

In conclusion
Jeff Weaver managed to hold Roger Clemens to a no-decision, yet sadly, the game may have been decided by a bad non-call by a bad umpire. Angel Hernandez did not call out Craig Biggio in the seventh and four runs followed; the exact margin of victory for Houston.

Upcoming action – probable starters (times CDT)
Mon., Sept. 25 vs. Padres: Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.07) vs. David Wells (0-2, 4.43) 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Tue., Sept. 26 vs. Padres: Chris Carpenter (15-7, 2.93) vs. Woody Williams (10-5, 3.53) 7:10 p.m. FSNM
Wed., Sept. 27 vs. Padres: Jason Marquis or Anthony Reyes vs. Chris Young (11-5, 3.55) 7:10 p.m. FSNM

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

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