SERIES: NL championship series; Tied, 2-2.
A day after evening the National League championship series at two games apiece, the Astros will try to move within one win of their first World Series berth when they meet the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5.
The Astros rebounded from losing Games 1 and 2 at Busch Stadium with a 5-2 win on Saturday and a 6-5 victory on Sunday, making this best-of-seven series now a best of three.
While he’s had some help, Beltran has clearly been the hitting star of this series and maybe of the entire postseason. His go-ahead solo home run in the seventh inning on Sunday gave him eight during these playoffs, tying the record set by Barry Bonds in 2002.
“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, who was acquired from Kansas City in midseason, has also homered in five straight games, breaking the playoff record set by San Francisco’s Jeffrey Leonard in 1987 and matched in 1996 by Texas’ Juan Gonzalez.
“There’s no better feeling,” said Beltran, who is playing in his first postseason.
Reliever Julian Tavarez allowed Beltran’s homer two days after saying the Astros aren’t in the same class as the Cardinals. The hard-throwing right-hander wasn’t very diplomatic on Sunday, either, throwing a fastball above the head of Jeff Bagwell, who came to the plate after Beltran’s blast. Plate umpire Mike Winters warned both teams against more trouble, and there were no further incidents.
“I just lost my cool,” Tavarez said.
The St. Louis bullpen was a major problem in Games 3 and 4, allowing 11 runs in six innings after giving up just four over seven frames in Games 1 and 2.
“We just didn’t get it done, but tomorrow is Game 5, not Game 7,” said left-hander Ray King, who has allowed two earned runs in one inning in this series. “We’re going to regroup. We’re going to talk and get everything out in the air, then do what we’ve done all year and close out games.”
Part of the problem is no Cardinals starter has lasted more than six innings in the series and manager Tony La Russa has used six of his seven relievers in the last two games. The seventh, Steve Kline, remains questionable because of an injured index finger on his pitching hand.
“We’ve pitched pretty well the whole year,” said Kiko Calero, who on Sunday allowed two runs and three hits, including Berkman’s solo homer in the sixth. “For relievers like Tavarez and me, this is just one day. We’re not concerned. We will forget it and come back tomorrow.”
Houston’s relievers, meanwhile, have held St. Louis scoreless over five innings in the last two games after allowing nine runs over 6 2-3 in the first two.
“There’s so many times that he’s picked us up over the year,” Houston’s Craig Biggio said of Oswalt. “Some days you’re going to have to score some runs. He gave us an opportunity to win today.”
Monday’s game will feature both the starters from Game 1. The Cardinals’ Woody Williams allowed four runs and four hits over six innings in the 10-7 win. Houston’s Brandon Backe, pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, gave up four runs and five hits over 4 2-3, but escaped without the loss.
Williams was born in Houston, while Backe’s hometown of Galveston, Texas is about 50 miles south. Including his two postseason starts, Backe is 5-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 18 appearances at Minute Maid Park and 1-2 with a 6.68 ERA in 17 games on the road.
“Well, the crowd’s here for you,” Backe said. “Every positive thing that happens, they’re there behind you. You feel like they’re your 10th player on the field.”
Game 6 is Wednesday in St. Louis.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Cardinals - 2B Tony Womack (.307 avg., 5 HRs, 38 RBIs, 26 SBs), RF Larry Walker (.298, 17, 47 in 258 at-bats with Colorado and St. Louis), 1B Pujols (.331, 46, 123, 51 2Bs, 133 runs), 3B Scott Rolen (.314, 34, 124), CF Jim Edmonds (.301, 42, 111, 38 2Bs), 2B Edgar Renteria (.287, 10, 72, 17 SBs), LF Reggie Sanders (.260, 22, 67, 21 SBs), C Mike Matheny (.247, 5, 50). Astros - LF Biggio (.281, 24 HRs, 63 RBIs, 47 2Bs, 100 runs), CF Beltran (.267, 38, 104, 42 SBs for Kansas City and Houston), 1B Bagwell (.266, 27, 89), RF Berkman (.316, 30, 106, 127 BBs, 104 runs), 2B Jeff Kent (.289, 27, 107), 3B Morgan Ensberg (.275, 10, 66), SS Jose Vizcaino (.274, 3, 33), C Brad Ausmus (.248, 5, 31).
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Williams (2-0, 4.50 ERA). Williams gave up just two runs and eight hits over six innings in an 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 5. He had made two postseason starts before this season, going 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA. His only other LCS appearance came in 2002, when he allowed three runs and six hits over six innings in a 4-1 Game 2 loss to San Francisco. Williams went 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA in three outings against the Astros during the regular season.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Backe (1-0, 5.06 ERA). Backe made his postseason debut on Oct. 9 in Game 3 of the division series against the Atlanta Braves, giving up just two runs and five hits over six innings in an 8-5 win. Backe, who did not break into Houston’s rotation until August, went 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in six games, including two starts, against the Cardinals during the regular season.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Astros, 10-8.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - 1B Pujols’ first-inning homer in Game 1 was his third in six at-bats against RHP Backe. … The Cardinals have not committed made an error in their eight playoff games. … La Russa started OF-INF John Mabry in left field Sunday in place of OF Reggie Sanders and C Yadier Molina at catcher in place of C Mike Matheny. Mabry went 1-for-3 with an RBI and Molina went 1-for-4 and threw out LF Biggio trying to steal. Astros - The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park was closed for the second straight day Sunday, but baseball officials plan to open it for Game 5—players believe the ball flies farther that way. … CF Beltran has scored 17 runs this postseason, one shy of Bonds’ 2002 record. Toronto’s Paul Molitor is the only other player with 17 runs in a postseason. Beltran is the fourth player to hit four homers in a league championship series, joining Pittsburgh’s Bob Robertson (1971), Los Angeles’ Steve Garvey (1978), San Francisco’s Leonard (1987) and Cleveland’s Jim Thome (1998). … 3B Ensberg went 0-for-4 Sunday and is just 2-for-16 (.125) in the series.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 1-2 on the road. Astros - 2-1 at home.