Series: Game 3 of 3

Houston won 3-0

Game 1: Monday, September 27
St. Louis3Final
Game 2: Tuesday, September 28
St. Louis1Final
Game 3: Wednesday, September 29
St. Louis4Final

Cardinals 4

(103-55, 52-29 away)

Astros 6

(89-70, 45-33 home)

8:05 PM ET, September 29, 2004

Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas 

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STL 000202000 4 6 0
HOU 01021020 - 6 9 1

W: C. Qualls (4-0)

L: J. Suppan (16-9)

S: B. Lidge (27)

Clemens denied 19th win, but Astros pass Cubs

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Astros can put themselves in the playoffs. They no longer need help from anyone else.

Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent and the Astros took over the NL wild-card lead Wednesday night, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 for their club-record 15th straight home victory.

Tiebreaker Possibilities
If the Giants, Cubs and Astros finish in a threeway tie, they would be seeded 1-2-3 based on head-to-head play. So that would make the Giants the No. 1 seed. It would be their choice whether to play one game or two. If they choose to play once:

  • Cubs (No. 2 seed) play Astros (No. 3) -- in Chicago.
  • The winner hosts the Giants the next day.

    If the Giants choose to play two games (unlikely):

  • They play the Astros in San Francisco.
  • If they win, they play the Cubs the next day in San Francisco.
  • If they lose, the Astros and Cubs play in Houston.

    Two-way ties:

  • If the Giants finish in a two-way tie with anybody, the game will be played in San Francisco.
  • If the Cubs and Astros tie for the wild card, they would play in Houston.

    If the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Astros finish with the same record, the Giants and Dodgers will play for the West. The loser then goes into the same three-way tiebreaker format to decide the wild card.

  • Houston moved a half-game ahead of the slumping Chicago Cubs, who lost to Cincinnati, and the San Francisco Giants, who fell in San Diego.

    "We've certainly made it interesting for everybody," Clemens said. "We'll take where we are right now and hope it's enough to get us in the playoffs."

    Jeff Bagwell drove in two runs for the Astros and Kent hit his 300th career homer. Clemens was denied his 19th win -- and almost certainly a chance at his seventh 20-win season -- when he left with the score tied at 4 after the sixth. It was his worst outing in three weeks.

    But Bagwell had a run-scoring single in the seventh and Lance Berkman followed with an RBI double to help the Astros eclipse their best home winning streak set in 1980 at the Astrodome.

    "It's an electric atmosphere here right now," closer Brad Lidge said. "The fans are as loud as I've ever heard them."

    Chad Qualls (4-0) pitched a scoreless seventh for the win, Dan Miceli struck out the side in the eighth and Lidge got three outs for his 27th save in 31 chances.

    The Rocket got off to a strong start, retiring the first 10 batters before So Taguchi singled in the fourth.

    Roger Cedeno followed with a double to the scoreboard in deep left, driving in Taguchi. Cedeno went to third on the throw and scored on Jose Vizcaino's throwing error to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead.

    Scott Rolen, who returned from an injured calf a night before, added a two-run shot in the fifth to tie the game at 4. The homer, Rolen's 34th of the season, nearly went out of the park, hitting the train tracks atop the wall in left-center.

    "We were able to get a couple of things going," Rolen said. Clemens "gave us some chances and we weren't able to capitalize."

    Clemens left the game after Jim Edmonds flied out to center to end the inning. He isn't scheduled to make another start before the end of the regular season, but has suggested he'd like to pitch in the regular-season finale against Colorado on Sunday.

    "I'll be ready to start or do whatever we need me to do," Clemens said.

    Kent became the 105th player to reach 300 homers with his second-inning shot off Jeff Suppan. The four-time All-Star joined Tino Martinez, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Ruben Sierra, Edmonds and Vinny Castilla in reaching that mark this season.

    Morgan Ensberg's two-run homer in the fourth was almost stopped by Taguchi, who stuck his glove in the air but just missed the ball as it bounced off the wall and into the right-field seats. Ensberg, who hit only his ninth home run of the season, pumped his fist and let out a yell as he rounded the bases.

    Bagwell's RBI double in the fifth gave Houston a 5-4 lead it wouldn't relinquish.

    "They have some momentum going," Suppan said. "It was hard to shut them down because they kept fighting back."

    Suppan (16-9) went seven innings, allowing six runs on nine hits in his first road loss of the year. The right-hander struck out four and walked one.

    Suppan was 10-0 in 13 road starts before Wednesday's game, hoping to join Jimmy Key in 1994 and Greg Maddux in '95 as the only pitchers to go undefeated in a season on the road.

    Hours before the game, many Astros gathered around a large TV to watch the final innings of the Reds-Cubs game. When Cincinnati's Austin Kearns tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth, the Astros' clubhouse erupted with cheers and whoops.

    "That pumped us up big-time," Lidge said. "Everyone was thinking, this is it. This is a fantastic opportunity to go up on them."

    Houston is off Thursday, then concludes its season at Minute Maid Park with a three-game series against the Rockies.

    The Cardinals, who clinched the NL Central last weekend, were handed their first three-game sweep since June 28-30 at Pittsburgh.

    Game notes

    The Cardinals gave 1B Albert Pujols the night off. John Mabry replaced him in the lineup. ... Houston's Carlos Beltran stole his career-high 42nd base of the season in the third. He needs only two more homers to become the fourth player in major league history with a 40-40 season. ... Nolan Ryan watched the game from the second row behind home plate.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press