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Beltran homers for record fifth straight playoff game

HOUSTON (AP) -- Julian Tavarez must have forgotten about
Carlos Beltran when he said the Cardinals didn't think the
Houston Astros
were so special.

Beltran struck again Sunday, homering in a record fifth straight
postseason game and lifting the Astros over St. Louis 6-5 to even
the NL championship series at 2.

"There's no better feeling," he said.

Before Game 1, the excitable Tavarez upset the Astros with this
assessment:

"We don't look at the Houston Astros like this is a great team.
They are good, but we are better than them. We are the best because
we've got 108 wins. We've proved it."

Right now, no one's better than Beltran.

He launched a tiebreaking shot off Tavarez in the seventh inning
into the Houston bullpen, reaching way down to golf a 2-2 slider
over the right-field wall.

"Barry Bonds is the best hitter in baseball. I don't think he
could have hit that pitch," Tavarez said. "I can't believe he hit
it."

Beltran ensured the teams will go back to Busch Stadium to
settle who goes to the World Series. Meantime, there's Game 5
Monday night, with Brandon Backe starting for Houston against
Woody Williams.

Beltran broke the record set by Jeffrey Leonard and tied by
Juan Gonzalez in 1996 for consecutive postseason games with a home run.
He also matched Bonds' 2002 record for homers in a single
postseason.

"This is as good as I've ever seen anybody swing the bat, not
just Carlos Beltran," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "He's some
kind of locked in."

Beltran is getting richer and richer with each swing. The
switch-hitting, All-Star center fielder might be the prime free
agent on the market once the season ends -- at this moment, he's
aiming for a ring.

"I'm just being relaxed, patient at the plate," Beltran said.

Sluggers again dominated. Not quite the way they did at Fenway
Park, where the Yankees obliterated Boston 19-8 Saturday night for
a 3-0 lead in the ALCS.

Albert Pujols homered for St. Louis, then came close to a
go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth against Brad Lidge. But the
ball was caught on the warning track, and the Astros closer struck
out Scott Rolen for his second straight save.

Lance Berkman also homered for Houston, giving the teams a
combined 19 home runs through only four games.

After Beltran sent the crowd at Minute Maid Park into a frenzy,
Tavarez further angered the Astros when he threw a fastball over
the head of the next hitter, Jeff Bagwell. They exchanged words,
plate umpire Mike Winters warned against further trouble and play
resumed without any problems.

"I just lost my cool," Tavarez said.

When the inning ended, Tavarez bent over as he walked to the
dugout and appeared to berate himself. His antics were replayed on
the stadium scoreboard, and that bothered Cardinals manager Tony La
Russa.

"I think ever since I've been around, since 1996, the Astros
are as classy an organization as anything I've met in the National
League," he said. "But even Sinatra clears his throat, and I
think that was below their standards and that was disappointing."

Dan Wheeler wound up with the win, pitching one inning in relief
before letting Lidge go two innings for the second straight day.

With Roy Oswalt on the mound, the Astros really liked this
pitching matchup. Yet, the righty who led the league with 20 wins
was far from his best. He hung around for six innings and didn't
strike out a single hitter for the first time since July 2003.

Oswalt went 2-0 against St. Louis this season, then won the
clinching Game 5 of the first round at Atlanta. But he seemed too
eager and too excited at the start and never found his rhythm.

Fortunately for the Astros, Jason Marquis wasn't much better.
Bumped down in the rotation after getting hit hard by Los Angeles
in Game 2 of the opening round, he was in constant trouble against
Houston.

La Russa kept looking for edges, and a couple of lineup shifts
paid off. John Mabry started in place of left fielder Reggie
Sanders and hit an RBI single, and rookie catcher Yadier Molina
replaced Mike Matheny and threw out Craig Biggio trying to steal,
and added a hit.

For the fourth straight game, the visiting team homered in the
first inning. It was Pujols' turn this time, and he lined a two-run
shot into the boxes above the left-field wall.

Rolen followed with a double and later scored on Mabry's single,
marking the first time in 20 innings that St. Louis scored on
something besides a home run.

Pujols was in the middle of the Cardinals' next two runs. He
walked and scored on Jim Edmonds' sacrifice fly in the third, and
hit an RBI single in the fourth for a 5-3 edge.

Bagwell hit an RBI double in the first and Berkman doubled home
two more runs in the third.

Berkman's third homer of the NLCS pulled the Astros to 5-4 in
the sixth against reliever Kiko Calero.

Houston tied it later in the inning on an RBI single by No. 8
hitter Raul Chavez -- he is Oswalt's personal catcher and not known
for his hitting, and he cheered himself all the way down the line.

Game notes
Marquis led all pitchers with 21 hits this season. He
singled in the fourth and tried to hustle it into a double, but
Berkman threw him out from right field. ... The Cardinals continued
to play flawlessly. They have not made an error in eight playoff
games.