<
>

Ensberg double lifts Astros to sweep of Cardinals

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rallying against 21-game winner Chris
Carpenter, the Houston Astros edged closer to their second straight
NL wild-card berth.

Morgan Ensberg had a tiebreaking double in the ninth inning, his
fourth hit of the game, and the Houston Astros beat the St. Louis
Cardinals 7-6 Wednesday night to maintain a 2½-game lead over
Philadelphia in the NL wild-card race.

"I feel like nothing has changed," said Ensberg, who reached
100 RBI for the first time in his major league career. "We need
to win tomorrow and keep on winning. I don't look at it that we
somehow did a great thing because of the win. It was necessary for
us."

With the score 6-6, Willy Taveras led off the ninth with his
major league-leading 69th infield hit and scored without a play on
Ensberg's double into the left-field corner off Jason Isringhausen
(1-2).

Houston swept a two-game series against the NL Central
champions, finishing the season 5-11 against St. Louis, and will
close the regular season with a four-game series at home against
the Cubs that starts Thursday. The Astros were 6-3 on their final
trip of the season.

"We've still got work to do," manager Phil Garner said.
"Tomorrow is our biggest game of the year. Then, the next day will
probably be even bigger."

Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb homered in consecutive at-bats off
Carpenter as the Astros improved to 87-71, a season-best 16 games
above .500. Chad Qualls (6-4) worked a perfect eighth, and Brad
Lidge finished for his 40th save in 43 chances.

Philadelphia (85-74) routed the New York Mets 16-6 and is off
Thursday. The Phillies finish with three games at Washington.

Reggie Sanders hit his first home runs since early July,
connecting on consecutive at-bats for the Cardinals, who got
another spotty outing from Carpenter. The Cardinals are 3-8 since
clinching the division and must sweep a season-ending series at
home against the Reds to give the franchise consecutive 100-win
seasons for the second time, the first since 1942-44.

Sanders' progress was about the only positive for the Cardinals,
who have lost three straight at home. He returned to the lineup
Sept. 12 after missing 54 games with a broken leg, and has five
RBI in his last three games.

"That's two huge hits," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's a
good sign for us."

Carpenter has failed in four attempts at getting his 22nd win
while reaching a career-high 241 2/3 innings. Carpenter was shaky
from the start, giving up a line-drive single to Craig Biggio on
his first pitch. In all, he allowed six runs -- five earned -- and
nine hits in six innings.

After his last start, Carpenter said it had been tough
maintaining his focus after the Cardinals clinched the NL Central
on Sept. 15.

"I'm confident in my stuff, I was confident in my delivery, I
was confident in the pitches I made, it was just one of those
nights," Carpenter said. "I think guys are eager and ready to get
going, and I'm one of them."

Carpenter is 0-1 with a 9.14 ERA since throwing seven scoreless
innings against the Mets on Sept. 8, hiking his overall ERA from
2.21 to 2.83. Against the Astros he was better with the bat,
hitting his first two career doubles and scoring twice.

"It was a strange night," Carpenter said. "I put good swings
on two balls and hit them hard. It was nice, but it would have been
nice to win."

Houston took a 4-2 lead against Carpenter in the fifth on
consecutive home runs by Berkman and Lamb, the first leaving the
frustrated pitcher barking into his glove at himself. But aside
from the long balls, the Astros agreed with the Cardinals'
assessment that they won largely with small ball.

"It's probably a deceiving line," Ensberg said. "We ended up
basically bleeding him to death."

A four-run fifth highlighted by Sanders' second homer and 20th
overall, a two-run shot off Scott Strickland, put the Cardinals
ahead 6-4. Carpenter's second double of the game off Houston
starter Brandon Backe started a rally that included an RBI single
by Jim Edmonds and a sacrifice fly by Larry Walker.

Carpenter, who won 13 straight games from June 14-Sept. 8,
couldn't hold a lead for the second straight outing, surrendering a
sacrifice fly to Biggio and a tying single by Taveras in the
sixth.

Game notes
Carpenter finished 12-1 with a 2.75 ERA against the NL
Central. ... A crowd of 40,616 was the Cardinals' 39th straight of
40,000 or more and the final weekend, a three-game series against
the Reds, is a sellout. ... Sanders has 26 multihomer games, two
this year. ... Carpenter was a career .067 hitter and was batting
.040 this year (3-for-75) before doubling and scoring in both of
his at-bats. ... The Astros finished 115-145 at Busch Stadium,
which is being demolished after the season.