Houston at St. Louis

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Oswalt sizzles as Astros notch rare NLCS road win

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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ST. LOUIS -- Roy Oswalt took the toss, stepped on first and pumped his fist, an unlikely show of emotion from Houston's laid-back 20-game winner after his biggest -- and last -- pitch of the game.

Oswalt and the Astros showed it's possible to win on the road in the NL championship series.

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Now, it's back to Texas.

Oswalt pitched seven stellar innings, Chris Burke kept up his unlikely postseason hitting and the Astros got past the St. Louis Cardinals and all their red-clad fans 4-1 Thursday night.

Houston evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece and headed home for the next three contests. Game 3 is Saturday, with Roger Clemens set to go for the Astros against Matt Morris.

"I was pretty pumped up," Oswalt said. "It's a key game, for sure, to leave here with a split and go home to play three games."

While Oswalt's performance hardly classified as a surprise -- after all, he's had consecutive 20-win seasons -- but the same can't be said for Burke.

The rookie outfielder came through in the division series with an 18th-inning homer that knocked out Atlanta, and he had a pinch-hit, two-run homer Wednesday in Houston's Game 1 loss to St. Louis.

One night later, Burke got his first postseason start and made the most of it, scoring two runs and driving in another with a two-out single in the eighth.

"He has not had a chance to play much in the postseason," teammate Craig Biggio said, "but he's been a huge contributor for us and a big lift."

Burke's RBI single ended Houston's 0-for-14 drought with runners in scoring position and improved his postseason numbers to 5-for-8 with two homers and four RBI.

"Well, I was hardly the hero tonight," he said. "Roy was great -- seven innings pitched and one run. He bailed us out quite a few times. Luckily, I was able to get a couple knocks."

The only knock for the Cardinals was Albert Pujols' 438-foot homer leading off the sixth.

Otherwise, Oswalt made every big pitch he needed, improving his career postseason record to 3-0 by allowing just five hits and striking out six.

"Stuff-wise, he's as good as it gets in this league," St. Louis' Jim Edmonds said.

Edmonds should know. The dangerous left-handed hitter twice faced the right-handed Oswalt with two runners on -- and didn't come through either time.

In the fifth, Edmonds took a called third strike on a 3-2 fastball at the knees. Two innings later, the crowd of 52,358 -- nearly all of them adorned in red -- was in an uproar after the Cardinals put runners at first and second with only one out.

But Oswalt retired David Eckstein with a fly ball to center, then got Edmonds on a grounder to first -- the last of the starter's 108 pitches. Oswalt covered on the play, pumping his fist after he took the flip from Lance Berkman.

"That's not typical," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "That's about the most you'll get out of Roy."

Overall, the Cardinals went 0-for-6 against Oswalt with runners in scoring position.

Houston scrounged for a couple of runs off Mark Mulder -- one scoring on a passed ball, the other on Biggio's groundout. The Astros added two more in the eighth off reliever Julian Tavarez.

Brad Lidge came on for a two-inning save, closing out the six-hitter with three strikeouts.

The Central Division rivals are meeting in the NLCS for the second year in a row, with the first eight games all won by the home team.

The 2004 series went the distance, with St. Louis advancing to the World Series by winning four games at Busch Stadium. The streak continued with the Cardinals' victory Wednesday.

Now, St. Louis has to win at least one game in Texas -- something it couldn't do last year -- to bring the series back to soon-to-be demolished Busch, which will be replaced next season by a new stadium going up next door.

"We're definitely pleased to take one game here and take the momentum," Burke said. "We're excited to get home to our fans and that place will be rocking."

Burke's run-scoring single gave the Astros a 3-1 lead, and he came all the way around to score when Adam Everett tripled off the glove of left-fielder Reggie Sanders.

Sanders, the Cardinals' hottest postseason hitter with 12 RBI, fell awkwardly on the warning track and left the game with a sprained lower back. Manager Tony La Russa isn't sure if Sanders will be able to play in Game 3.

"The doctor said it was like a train wreck," La Russa said. "He didn't break anything, but he was bruised all over."

The Cardinals fell behind for the first time in the playoffs when Houston pushed an unearned run across in the second.

Burke tripled to the gap, barely beating Mark Grudzielanek's relay throw. Mulder retired Everett on a grounder back to the mound, then walked Brad Ausmus intentionally to get to the weak-hitting Oswalt.

On a 2-0 count, Ausmus took off for second on an attempted steal, which appeared to distract catcher Yadier Molina. He let an inside fastball deflect off his glove for a passed ball, and Burke trotted home with the first run of the game.

In its first four postseason games, St. Louis outscored San Diego and Houston 16-0 through the first four innings.

The Astros made it 2-0 in the fifth. Ausmus doubled to the wall, Oswalt got down a sacrifice bunt and Biggio hit a grounder to short with the infield back to drive in the run.

The Cardinals put two runners on against Oswalt in the first to bring up Sanders, whose two-run homer sparked a 5-3 victory in Game 1. This time, he ended the threat by grounding out to third.

Edmonds atoned a bit for his offensive shortcomings with a brilliant defensive play in the sixth. Morgan Ensberg hit a drive to the gap in right-center, but Edmonds stretched out to make the backhanded catch, belly-flopping onto the warning track but holding on.

Mulder pitched well enough to win, giving up eight hits and one earned run in seven innings.

But Oswalt was even better.

"What you saw tonight is not unusual," Garner said. "Boy, he stepped up large for us tonight and just took control of the ballgame. He just absolutely dominated the game."

Notes

  • While it wasn't as controversial as the call in Game 2 of the ALCS, home plate umpire Greg Gibson got one wrong in the second. He ruled Grudzielanek grounded out on a dribbler to the mound, but television replays clearly showed the ball went off the hitter's foot and should have been called foul.
  • Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Friday is the 20th anniversary of the former St. Louis shortstop's home run off Tom Niedenfuer to win Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Roy Oswalt strikes out six and allows just one run in seven innings as Houston evens the NLCS.
 
Roy Oswalt strikes out six and allows just one run in seven innings as Houston evens the NLCS. (AP)
 

Players of the Game
Houston

R. Oswalt
IP 7.0
H 5
ER 1
BB 3
K 6
St. Louis

M. Mulder
IP 7.0
H 8
ER 1
BB 2
K 6
 

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Houston Astros
Craig Biggio, 2B5021022 .296
Willy Taveras, CF5020002 .318
Lance Berkman, 1B4120013 .364
Morgan Ensberg, 3B4000003 .231
Jason Lane, RF4000022 .167
Chris Burke, LF4221001 .625
Adam Everett, SS4011011 .273
    Brad Lidge, P0000000 .000
Brad Ausmus, C3110111 .250
Roy Oswalt, P1010100 .250
    Eric Bruntlett, SS1000010 .143
Totals3541132815 
Batting
2B - Lance Berkman (3, Tavarez), Brad Ausmus (2, Mulder)
3B - Chris Burke (1, Mulder), Adam Everett (1, Tavarez)
SH - Roy Oswalt (1)
RBI - Craig Biggio (2), Chris Burke (4), Adam Everett (2)
2-OUT RBI - Chris Burke (3), Adam Everett (1)
SB - Brad Ausmus (1, 2nd base off Mulder/Molina)
CS - Willy Taveras (1, 2nd base by Mulder/Molina)
Team LOB - 7
Fielding
E - Morgan Ensberg (2, )
Houston Astros
Roy Oswalt (W,2-0) 7511361 2.51
Brad Lidge (S,1) 2100030 0.00
Pitches-Strikes - Roy Oswalt 108-75, Brad Lidge 31-20
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Roy Oswalt 12-3, Brad Lidge 1-2
Batters Faced - Roy Oswalt 29, Brad Lidge 7
St. Louis Cardinals
David Eckstein, SS3000102 .350
Jim Edmonds, CF4010024 .278
Albert Pujols, 1B4111000 .438
Larry Walker, RF3000110 .063
    Jason Marquis, P0000000 .000
Reggie Sanders, LF3010012 .333
    So Taguchi, LF1000010 .000
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B4000001 .143
Abraham Nunez, 3B4010010 .389
Yadier Molina, C4020011 .250
Mark Mulder, P2000021 .000
   a- John Rodriguez, PH0000100 .000
    Julian Tavarez, P0000000 .000
    John Mabry, RF1000001 .333
Totals331613912 
a-walked for Mulder in the 7th
Batting
2B - Yadier Molina 2 (2, Oswalt, Oswalt)
HR - Albert Pujols (1, Oswalt)
RBI - Albert Pujols (4)
Team LOB - 8
Fielding
DP - Mulder-Grudzielanek-Pujols
PB - Yadier Molina (1)
St. Louis Cardinals
Mark Mulder (L,1-1) 7821260 1.32
Julian Tavarez 1322000 15.43
Jason Marquis 1000020 0.00
IBB - Ausmus by Mark Mulder
WP - Julian Tavarez (1)
Pitches-Strikes - Mark Mulder 115-71, Julian Tavarez 21-13, Jason Marquis 17-9
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Mark Mulder 8-5, Julian Tavarez 2-1, Jason Marquis 1-0
Batters Faced - Mark Mulder 29, Julian Tavarez 6, Jason Marquis 3
Game Information
Attendance - 52358
Game Time - 3:03
Temperature - 67
Umpires - Home - Greg Gibson, First Base - Wally Bell, Second Base - Phil Cuzzi, Third Base - Larry Poncino