Playoff Series: Game 4 of 6

Houston won 4-2

Game 1: Wednesday, October 12
St. Louis5
Game 2: Thursday, October 13
St. Louis1
Game 3: Saturday, October 15
St. Louis3Final
Game 4: Sunday, October 16
St. Louis1Final
Game 5: Monday, October 17
St. Louis5Final
Game 6: Wednesday, October 19
St. Louis1

4:45 PM ET, October 16, 2005

Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas 

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STL 000100000 1 5 1
HOU 00010010 - 2 6 0

W: C. Qualls (1-0)

L: J. Marquis (0-1)

S: B. Lidge (3)

Astros defense comes through as Cardinals melt down

Assocaited Press

HOUSTON (AP) -- First baseman Lance Berkman stretched as far as he could, squeezed the throw tight and hopped high in the air with glee.

One more win and the Astros will have the whole city of Houston jumping for joy.

Game 4 Breakdown
Unsung Hero
Morgan Ensberg. He had two of the Astros' six hits, but his biggest at-bat came in the bottom of the seventh when he drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly.

Jason Marquis. His rush to field a bunt by Craig Biggio, which resulted in an error, in the bottom of the seventh played a huge part in the Astros scoring the go-ahead run.

Turning Point
The bottom of the seventh inning. With the score tied 1-1, pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro led off with a walk. He moved to second on Marquis' error on the bunt by Biggio, who reached first base. Two batters later, Lance Berkman walked to load the bases. Willy Taveras, who pinch-ran for Palmeiro, then came in to score on a sacrifice fly to center by Ensberg, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead.

Important Stat
John Mabry, playing third base in place of the injured Abraham Nunez, went 0-for-4 and stranded four runners on base, including two in the ninth inning when he grounded into a game-ending double play.

On Deck
Trailing 3 games to 1 in the series, the Cardinals will send their ace, Chris Carpenter, to the mound in Game 5 on Monday in Houston. Andy Pettitte will get the start for the Astros. Carpenter was 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three starts against the Astros in Minute Maid Park this season. Pettitte was 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA in 17 starts at home this year.

Poised closer Brad Lidge pitched his way out of a major mess in the ninth inning, defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett started a game-ending double play and Houston scratched out a 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Sunday in Game 4 of the NLCS to move within one win of its first World Series.

"I'm starting to believe," said 39-year-old Craig Biggio, on the cusp of a lifelong dream.

Now it's the steaming-mad Cardinals who are in a serious jam.

"Guess what? If we're going to be a champion, we've got to come back," shortstop David Eckstein said. "We might not be able to sleep tonight, but that's normal."

Lidge stranded the potential tying run at third base to earn his third save of the series, Jason Lane homered and Willy Taveras made a saving catch on the center-field hill. Houston took advantage of a critical error by pitcher Jason Marquis -- plus the ejections of St. Louis manager Tony La Russa and star Jim Edmonds by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi -- to build a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"This game, there's some real great things about it and there's some things that absolutely stink," La Russa said, declining to talk specifically about the umpires.

Any postseason ejection is rare, and the last time a team lost two members came in 1998 when Cleveland pitcher Dwight Gooden and manager Mike Hargrove were tossed.

"I'm not trying to get thrown out of a playoff game. I don't think I was adamant," Edmonds said. "I said, 'I'm just trying to ask you why that ball's a strike,' and asked him to do a better job and he threw me out."

A security guard in front of the umpires' room at Minute Maid park said they would not be available for comment.

The Astros can close it out at home Monday night, with Andy Pettitte on the mound against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. Houston has come this far before -- the Astros were one victory from the Fall Classic in 1980 and 2004, but are 0-4 overall with a chance to win the NLCS.

"For us, it's the best one out of three right now. It doesn't get any easier," manager Phil Garner said. "We're in good position in terms of our pitching, our players and everything. But the job's still got to get done."

St. Louis has quite an uphill climb if it wants to win its second consecutive pennant. The Cardinals must face Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens in the next three games -- if they can push it that far.

There is some hope: St. Louis won three consecutive games started by Pettitte, Oswalt and Clemens from July 15-17 at Busch Stadium. And the Cardinals, who have lost three straight, did not have a four-game skid all season.

"They've got their three guys and we've got to find a way," Eckstein said. "This club is very tough, very resilient, and we're going to be tested."

Once again in this postseason, the umpires were in the middle of all the action.

The Cardinals were angry about Cuzzi's liberal strike zone all afternoon, and La Russa and Edmonds were ejected in the late innings for arguing balls and strikes.

The Astros are 2-for-31 with runners in scoring position during the series, so it figures that they scored the go-ahead run without a hit.

"We've been bad offensively all season. We're just continuing the trend. It's nothing new," Mike Lamb said.

After Morgan Ensberg's tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the seventh, Lidge entered with a 2-1 lead in the ninth.

The Cardinals managed a run against him Saturday for the first time in 31 innings, and they got something going again right away.

Albert Pujols hit a leadoff single and went to third on a single to right by ailing Larry Walker.

Reggie Sanders, who missed Game 3 with a sore neck and back, hit a bouncer to third, and Ensberg made a nice play to cut down Pujols at the plate.

But with nobody covering, Walker alertly dashed to third, putting runners at the corners again, this time with one out.

The Astros argued that they had called time out, but the umpires let Walker remain at third.

No matter to Lidge.

He got John Mabry to ground to Bruntlett at second base -- though at first, the ball appeared to be hit too slowly to turn two, and it seemed the tying run would score.

Yet Bruntlett whipped an accurate throw to shortstop Adam Everett, who flipped a difficult relay to first to end the game.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press