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St. Louis at Houston

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Houston needs one more win for first Fall Classic trip

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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HOUSTON -- Poised as can be no matter how tough the task, Astros closer Brad Lidge pulled off another great escape against St. Louis.

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

Defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett started a game-ending double play, Lidge wriggled out of a major mess in the ninth inning and Houston scratched out a 2-1 victory Sunday in Game 4 to move within one win of its first trip to the World Series.

"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."

Lidge earned 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 -- 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

The Cardinals were angry about Phil 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 hit a slow grounder to Bruntlett at second base, and shortstop Adam Everett turned a difficult double play that ended the game.

Stretching as far as he could, first baseman Lance Berkman gloved the ball just in time to get Mabry. First-base ump Larry Poncino punched him out -- and replays showed the close call was correct.

Berkman jumped for joy, and the Astros rushed toward second base to mob Everett, who pumped his fist in the air when he saw the final out called.

"We needed it to be perfect and we got it," Lidge said. "They rolled it and it was an awesome play."

Garner made a string of defensive moves late -- and they all paid off. Bruntlett came in for 39-year-old second baseman Craig Biggio, Berkman moved from left field to first and Taveras took over in center in the eighth after entering as a pinch-runner.

With a runner on and two outs in the eighth, Cuzzi called Dan Wheeler's 3-1 pitch a strike to Edmonds, who walked over to Cuzzi, argued for a moment and was tossed.

John Rodriguez pinch-hit for Edmonds and sent a long drive to center, but the speedy Taveras raced back and up the Tal's Hill incline for an outstanding catch more than 400 feet from home plate.

"I hit it like 420 feet, what can you do?" Rodriguez said. "I just hit it to the wrong part of the park."

Shouting from the dugout at Cuzzi, La Russa was ejected in the seventh after Marquis walked Berkman.

With the score tied at 1, pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro drew a leadoff walk from Marquis, who then bobbled Biggio's bunt for an error. One out later, Berkman walked and Ensberg hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly for a 2-1 Houston lead.

Both managers went to their bullpens in the sixth, despite solid outings by No. 4 starters Brandon Backe and Jeff Suppan.

The banged-up Cardinals got a big bat back: Sanders returned from a sore neck and back after missing Game 3, but third baseman Abraham Nunez sat out with a deep thigh bruise.

Eckstein drew a leadoff walk in the fourth, and the Cardinals capitalized. Edmonds followed with a hit-and-run double to left for St. Louis' first hit, finally bringing Pujols to the plate with runners on base. His sacrifice fly gave the Cardinals their first lead since Game 1.

In the bottom half, Lane, who hit the go-ahead single Saturday, came through again. He lofted a 1-2 pitch into the Crawford Boxes above the short porch in left, tying the score at 1.

Bouncing on and off the mound, the energetic Backe struck out seven and allowed only two hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Pitching for the first time since Sept. 25, Suppan yielded three hits in five innings before giving way to Marquis to start the sixth. Suppan, who won 16 games each of the past two seasons, won two playoff clinchers last year, beating Clemens in Game 7 of the NLCS.

Notes

  • Mabry played 3B for the Cardinals, his first start of this postseason.
  • The Astros are 4-0 at home this postseason and have won seven home playoff games in a row.
 
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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Astros shortstop Adam Everett turns a game-ending double play to finish off the Cards in game 4.
 
Astros shortstop Adam Everett turns a game-ending double play to finish off the Cards in game 4. (AP)
 

Players of the Game
Houston

J. Lane
AB 3
R 1
H 2
HR 1
RBI 1
St. Louis

A. Pujols
AB 3
R 0
H 2
HR 0
RBI 1
 
St. Louis Cardinals
David Eckstein, SS2100211 .269
Jim Edmonds, CF3010011 .292
   a- John Rodriguez, PH1000001 .000
    So Taguchi, CF0000000 .000
Albert Pujols, 1B3021010 .478
Larry Walker, RF3010101 .095
Reggie Sanders, LF4000024 .273
John Mabry, 3B4000013 .250
Yadier Molina, C3000000 .259
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B3010000 .143
Jeff Suppan, P2000010 .000
    Jason Marquis, P1000001 .000
Totals291513712 
a-flied out for Edmonds in the 8th
Batting
2B - Jim Edmonds (3, Backe)
SF - Albert Pujols (1)
RBI - Albert Pujols (5)
Team LOB - 5
Fielding
E - Jason Marquis (1, wild throw)
St. Louis Cardinals
Jeff Suppan 5311351 1.80
Jason Marquis (L,0-1) 3310310 0.00
Pitches-Strikes - Jeff Suppan 93-55, Jason Marquis 50-26
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jeff Suppan 7-3, Jason Marquis 4-5
Batters Faced - Jeff Suppan 21, Jason Marquis 16
Houston Astros
Craig Biggio, 2B3000102 .294
    Brad Lidge, P0000000 .000
Chris Burke, CF-LF3000103 .400
Lance Berkman, LF-1B2000201 .321
Morgan Ensberg, 3B3021002 .258
Mike Lamb, 1B4000024 .333
    Dan Wheeler, P0000000 .000
    Eric Bruntlett, 2B0000000 .143
Jason Lane, RF3121100 .226
Brad Ausmus, C4000034 .219
Adam Everett, SS4010004 .267
Brandon Backe, P2000010 .000
    Mike Gallo, P0000000 .000
    Chad Qualls, P0000000 .000
   a- Orlando Palmeiro, PH-PR0000100 .250
    Willy Taveras, PR-CF1110000 .348
Totals292626620 
a-walked for Qualls in the 7th
Batting
HR - Jason Lane (1, Suppan)
SF - Morgan Ensberg (1)
SH - Craig Biggio (2)
RBI - Morgan Ensberg (8), Jason Lane (5)
Team LOB - 11
Fielding
DP - Biggio-Everett-Lamb, Bruntlett-Everett-Berkman
Houston Astros
Brandon Backe 5.2211370 4.91
Mike Gallo 0.1000000 0.00
Chad Qualls (W,1-0) 1000000 3.00
Dan Wheeler (H,1) 1100000 1.69
Brad Lidge (S,3) 1200000 1.13
Pitches-Strikes - Brandon Backe 81-52, Mike Gallo 1-1, Chad Qualls 9-7, Dan Wheeler 18-15, Brad Lidge 17-13
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Brandon Backe 6-3, Mike Gallo 1-0, Chad Qualls 2-1, Brad Lidge 2-0
Batters Faced - Brandon Backe 21, Mike Gallo 1, Chad Qualls 3, Dan Wheeler 4, Brad Lidge 4
Game Information
Attendance - 43010
Game Time - 3:11
Temperature - 72
Umpires - Home - Phil Cuzzi, First Base - Larry Poncino, Second Base - Gerry Davis, Third Base - Tim McClelland