Biggio, Astros rally to keep Cardinals stuck in neutral

HOUSTON (AP) -- Craig Biggio snapped out of his September slump
with one huge game.

Biggio's two-out RBI single capped Houston's two-run rally in
the bottom of the ninth that gave the Astros a 6-5 victory over the
St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.

The loss left the Cardinals' magic number to win a third
straight NL Central title at five.

The 40-year-old Biggio went 3-for-5, including a two-run single
in the eighth and a double in the first. He came in with only seven
hits in 57 at-bats this month.

"Sometimes you come through, sometimes you don't," Biggio
said. "When you get your mindset right, you can come up with big

Biggio's last multi-hit game came on Sept. 1, and since then
he's been poring over videotape of his swing. The extra work
culminated in his first three-hit game since July 27.

"It's really nice to feel the way I do now," he said. "Thank
God for videotape. That has really helped me."

Morgan Ensberg homered for the Astros, who rallied to beat the
Cardinals for the second straight night by the same score.

Pinch-hitter Orlando Palmiero tied the game in the ninth with an
RBI-double off Braden Looper (9-3), who then gave up Biggio's
game-winner. Looper replaced closer Jason Isringhausen, who had hip
surgery on Thursday.

"Everyone has to step it up when you lose a guy like that,"
Looper said of Isringhausen. "Tonight I just didn't do my part."

The Astros, the defending NL champions, and Cincinnati Reds, who
beat Chicago 4-2 on Friday, moved within 5½ games of the Cardinals.
Houston has won four of five and is still clinging to postseason

Right-handed aces Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens will pitch the
final two games of the series over the weekend.

"We're taking this opportunity and we're going to do something
with it," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We have something to
play for. Thank goodness, we've got something to play for."

Palmiero has 11 pinch-hit RBI this season, six against the
Cardinals. He's 7-for-15 against St. Louis this season.

"I don't question how things happen," Palmiero said. "I just
take things as they come."

On Thursday night, Palmiero had a two-run RBI-single in the
fifth as the Astros also rallied from a 5-2 deficit.

This time, Scott Spiezio put the Cardinals up 4-2 with a two-run
triple in the fifth off reliever Russ Springer.

Chris Duncan then homered in the seventh off Brad Lidge, the
third solo shot of the game for St. Louis.

Ronnie Belliard and David Eckstein also homered for the
Cardinals, who have lost seven of their last eight road games.

"It can get tough, especially when you get down to the last few
games," Spiezio said. "And we're still playing well. I think we'd
all be a little bit more worried if we weren't playing well."

Chris Narveson made his first major league start for St. Louis,
replacing Jason Marquis, who had back spasms. The 24-year-old
left-hander allowed two runs and two hits in four innings.

Houston rookie starter Jason Hirsh allowed four runs and five
hits in 4 2-3 innings.

Eckstein, starting for the first time since straining an oblique
muscle on Aug. 18, hammered Hirsh's third pitch into the seats in
left for his second homer.

With two outs in the second, Belliard hit his 11th homer just
inside the foul pole in left.

Ensberg tied the game with a two-out solo homer in the third,
his 23rd.

With two outs in the Cardinals' fifth, Duncan reached on a
fielder's choice and Albert Pujols singled. Spiezio's triple to the
gap in left-center then put the Cards up 4-2.

Palmiero and Eric Bruntlett led off the Astros eighth with
singles off Adam Wainwright. The runners advanced on a wild pitch
and scored on Biggio's single to center.

"I don't care how many oh-fers he has," Garner said, "he came
through big time for us, even though he's struggling."

Chad Qualls (6-3) pitched a scoreless ninth for Houston.

Game notes
Eckstein hit his fourth career leadoff homer. ... Biggio's
double was his 969th extra-base hit and tied him with former Astro
Jeff Bagwell for 30th all-time. ... Spiezio has recorded 32 of his
48 RBI with two outs.