SERIES: NL Championship Series; Cardinals, 1-0.
Mark Mulder is not going to let an ugly bruise on his pitching arm prevent him from making his first career league championship series start.
The veteran left-hander will try to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead over the Houston Astros when the NL Central rivals continue their second straight October showdown with a trip to the World Series on the line.
The Cardinals jumped on Houston starter Andy Pettitte early in Wednesday’s series opener as Reggie Sanders’ first-inning two-run homer sparked St. Louis to a 5-3 win. Last year, the Cardinals won two straight at home to start the NLCS, but needed seven games to reach the World Series for the first time since 1982.
The Astros, who have never made it to the Fall Classic, trailed 5-0 before Chris Burke, the hero of Sunday’s 18-inning division series-clinching victory over Atlanta, hit a two-run homer off Chris Carpenter.
David Eckstein went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI for St. Louis, which improved to 4-0 in the postseason. The Cardinals were swept by Boston in last year’s World Series.
Mulder, who suffered through four consecutive first-round exits with Oakland from 2000-2003, didn’t get a chance to pitch in the playoffs at all last year because the Athletics were edged out for the AL West title by the Los Angeles Angels on the season’s final weekend.
The 28-year-old southpaw helped the Cardinals get through the division series by getting the win in a 6-2 victory over San Diego last Thursday. St. Louis swept the series in three games.
Mulder didn’t look like he would make it through the outing after taking a line drive off the left biceps in the second inning. But he gutted his way through 6 2-3 strong innings, surrendering a run and eight hits while striking out two and walking one.
Mulder insists he won’t let the scary incident affect him Thursday.
“If another one comes back at me, another one comes back at me,” he said. “You know, I kind of feel I field my position pretty well. Like I said, I’ve never really been hit—I’ve never been hit like that before. It was just dead on, just a full blow. I can field my position. If I start worrying about being ready for a line drive too soon that means I’m not finishing my pitches and I’ve got to be able to do that first.”
Mulder, who entered this season 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA in four career postseason starts, is looking forward to pitching with the NL pennant on the line.
“I know when I was in Oakland, things always kind of happened for us to not win a series,” said Mulder, who was part of A’s teams that lost nine potential division series clinchers.
“With this team we just got up 2-0 and just finished it. No messing around, we came out and scored a bunch of runs early in the first game and got us a lead. Maybe it’s just different teams and experience.”
Mulder is 2-1 with a 2.72 ERA in five career starts against the Astros. He did not receive a decision in his last outing against Houston, allowing an earned run and two hits over eight innings in St. Louis’ 6-5 loss at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 2.
The Astros will counter with Roy Oswalt, who got the win in Houston’s 7-3 victory over Atlanta in Game 3 of the division series on Saturday. The right-hander, coming off his second straight 20-win campaign, allowed three runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings in improving to 2-0 in five career postseason outings, including four starts.
Game 3 is Saturday in Houston. Last year, the home team won every game in the series.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Astros - 2B Craig Biggio (.264, 26 HRs, 69 RBIs, 17 HBP), CF Willy Taveras (.291, 3, 29, 71 infield hits, 34 SBs), 3B Morgan Ensberg (.283, 36, 101), LF Lance Berkman (.293, 24, 82, 91 walks), 1B Mike Lamb (.236, 12, 53), RF Jason Lane (.267, 26, 78), SS Adam Everett (.248, 11, 54); C Brad Ausmus (.258, 3, 47). Cardinals - SS Eckstein (.294, 8, 61, 11 SBs), CF Jim Edmonds (.263, 29, 89), 1B Albert Pujols (.330, 41, 117, 16 SBs), RF Larry Walker (.289, 15, 52 in 100 games), LF Sanders (.271, 21, 54 in 93 games), 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.294, 8, 59), C Yadier Molina (.252, 8, 49), 3B Abraham Nunez (.285, 5, 44).
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Oswalt (1-0, 3.68 ERA). Oswalt has won his last four starts and is unbeaten in five outings since a 4-2 defeat at Milwaukee on Sept. 11. He went 8-10 despite a solid 3.38 ERA in 18 road outings this year.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Mulder (1-0, 1.35 ERA). Mulder went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA during the regular season, marking the fifth straight year he has won at least 15 games. He went 7-3 with a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts at Busch Stadium this year.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Cardinals, 11-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Astros - Game 1 starter LHP Pettitte was struck on the leg by a ball during batting practice Wednesday. Though the Astros insisted Pettitte was fine, he surrendered five runs and eight hits over six innings. … C Brad Ausmus, who had a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning of Game 1, is 6-for-17 (.353) in his career against LHP Mulder. … 2B Biggio is 0-for-14 in his career against Mulder. Cardinals - OF Sanders, a flop in five previous postseasons, has resembled Reggie Jackson this time around. The 37-year-old outfielder had a homer and 10 RBIs in the three-game sweep of San Diego, including a division series-record six RBIs in the opener. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk Wednesday. Before this year, Sanders’ postseason resume was dismal: 36-for-191 for a .188 average, with five homers and 13 RBIs. … The winner of Game 1 has won the last 12 NLCS. The last time that didn’t happen was in 1991, when the Braves dropped the opener to Pittsburgh before reaching the World Series. … OF Walker was 0-for-10 in the postseason before hitting a broken-bat single in the fourth inning of Game 1.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Astros - 1-1 on the road. Cardinals - 2-0 at home.