Cardinals 10, Astros 7

Thursday, October 14th 2004, 6:55 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Lance Berkman is certain the Houston Astros are going to score plenty in the NL championship series. Stopping the St. Louis Cardinals, now that's trouble.

It sure was Wednesday night.

In a matchup that promised a lot of hitting, Larry Walker and the Cardinals delivered. They whacked balls all over Busch Stadium, overcoming four Houston home runs to beat up the Astros 10-7 in Game 1.

``You don't have to live with the long ball,'' Cardinals star Albert Pujols said.

Pujols did hit a home run, while slumping Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen contributed and winning pitcher Woody Williams added a double. And it was a significant win: The last 11 teams to take the opener of the NLCS have reached the World Series.

The Astros won the home-run derby, with Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Kent and Mike Lamb connecting to account for all of Houston's runs.

``No disrespect to their pitching staff, but we haven't had a problem scoring runs the entire postseason,'' Berkman said. ``Eventually, we're going to have to win a 3-2 or a 4-1 ballgame if we're going to have a legitimate chance of doing anything in the postseason. But as far as we swung the bats, I've got no complaints.''

Beltran's fifth homer of the postseason put Houston up 2-0 in the first inning. Not that the top-hitting team in the league was worried.

``We hadn't even come to bat yet,'' Walker said. ``Right away you're thinking, 'OK, they have two runs, but let's get realistic, we haven't even made one of our 27 outs yet.'''

He was right. After Tony Womack lined out in the bottom half, Walker tripled on a ball that Berkman misplayed in right field and Pujols hit a tying shot into the Cardinals' bullpen.

In an October when the ball is flying _ 58 homers in 19 playoff games overall _ Walker finished a home run shy of becoming the first player in postseason history to hit for the cycle.

Given a chance to do it, Walker struck out in the eighth inning.

``That's all I needed, just a home run? I think you could tell from my swings I was hacking at it pretty good,'' he said. ``I knew what was at stake. I took a shot at it. I wasn't trying to hit a line drive.''

No one thought pitchers would rule in this series, and it was an accurate prediction. Edmonds' three-run double with two outs capped a six-run sixth inning that broke the game open and put St. Louis ahead 10-4.

``We got some huge hits that fell in for us,'' Walker said. ``A string of hits is just as good as hitting the ball out of the ballpark.''

Unheralded Pete Munro gets his chance to try to slow down the team that led the majors with 105 victories. A guy who began the season in the minors with Minnesota, Munro will start Game 2 for Houston against 15-game winner Matt Morris on Thursday night.

For sure, Astros manager Phil Garner will find himself watching The Weather Channel. The forecast is for showers, and the wild-card Astros would certainly welcome it.

A rainout would allow them to bring back ace Roger Clemens in Game 2 and then use 20-game winner Roy Oswalt back home in Game 3.

Williams lasted six innings, adding to the victory he earned in Game 1 of the first round against Los Angeles. Jason Isringhausen got the final out for a save.

Chad Qualls wound up as the losing pitcher, in relief of Brandon Backe.

``It was just a bad day today,'' Backe said.

Rolen, bothered by a strained left calf, was 0-for-14 in this postseason before lining a single that made it 4-all in the fifth.

``I got my one for the series,'' the All-Star third baseman said. ``No, I hope not.''

Williams' one-out double got the inning going, and Walker later snapped his bat on an RBI double. The ball looped to left while the shattered barrel flew into the Cardinals' first-base dugout and sent Edmonds scurrying.

For all the big hits, the Cardinals strung together a bunch of little ones in the game-turning sixth inning.

Reggie Sanders got an infield single and pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno's groundout put St. Louis ahead. Womack and Walker added RBI singles, and another run scored on shortstop Jose Vizcaino's bounced throw before Edmonds' big double.

Berkman hit a two-run homer in the eighth and Lamb added a solo homer in the ninth.

Notes: No team from the NL Central has reached the World Series since the start of three-division play. That's guaranteed to change this year. ... Houston was 10-8 against the Cardinals this year, the only team to beat them in the season series. ... Lamb hit his fifth homer against St. Louis this season.