ST. LOUIS -- The Houston Astros sounded convincing enough prior to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series when they said it was not the end of the world if they went back to Houston with an 0-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
But after falling Thursday, 6-4, before 52,347 at Busch Stadium, the Astros are now in a situation in which they cannot afford to lose again until sometime early next week.
That's probably why after the game, the buzz in the clubhouse focused more on "Rocket and Roy" -- as in Clemens and Oswalt -- than "Albert and Scott" -- as in Pujols and Rolen, whose solo homers off Dan Miceli in the eighth gave the Cardinals the lead and eventually the win.
Instead, the Astros talked of going home, where they will watch their two best pitchers make their first LCS appearances. Clemens starts Saturday and Oswalt on Sunday, and the Astros like their chances.
"We're not out of this thing by any means," Jeff Bagwell said. "We're going home and we've got our two big guys going for us. We've got our home crowd and we can do the exact same thing that happened here. They won their two games, we can win our first two games and we're right back in this thing."
Still, it had to be somewhat disheartening to miss a good chance to win a game without Clemens or Oswalt on the mound. Pete Munro, the clear underdog in a pitching matchup with Matt Morris, was more effective than his Cardinals counterpart and kept the damage to a minimum, pitching four shutout frames before allowing a two-run homer to Larry Walker in the fifth.
The Astros have slugged 17 home runs in the 2004 postseason through Game 2 of the NLCS:
Ausmus, Berkman, Beltran and Lane
Bagwell and Chavez
Beltran (2) and Bagwell
Beltran, Kent, Berkman, Lamb
The Astros are tied with the 1996 Braves and 2003 Cubs for third in NL postseason history. The 2002 Giants slugged 27 postseason homers, tops in the Majors. The 1995 Braves are second in NL postseason history with 19 homers.
"He did a good job," manager Phil Garner said of Munro. "He got us into the fifth and that's where we've had trouble. I thought we could get out of the fifth and still have the lead. Obviously, we didn't do that."
The Astros' 3-2 lead disappeared minutes later, when Pujols singled up the middle and scored on Rolen's two-run homer off Chad Harville.
Morris, whom opposing hitters know they have to get to early if they're going to hit him at all, started off shaky and never did improve as the game progressed. The Astros benefited from his control issues with three runs, but considering Morris walked five, threw two wild pitches and balked once, Houston can look at its three runs over five innings against the Cardinals right-hander as a slew of missed opportunities.
"It's not like Matt's going to feed us fastballs right down the middle with guys in scoring position," Lance Berkman said. "He's out there making pitches."
Two runs scored via solo homers -- Carlos Beltran in the first and Morgan Ensberg in the fourth. Beltran's was his sixth homer of the postseason, which tied Bernie Williams for the most by a switch-hitter in a single playoff year.
But the Astros produced 12 baserunners while Morris was on the mound, and they could muster only one Berkman RBI single in the fifth to increase their advantage to three, which, as the Cardinals displayed with four homers that resulted in three curtain calls, was nowhere near enough.
Carlos Beltran belted his second homer in the NLCS, sixth of the postseason, when he connected in the first inning of Game 2. Players with the most homers in an LCS:
Bob Robertson, PIT
Steve Garvey, LA
Rusty Staub, NYM
Darryl Strawberry, NYY
Todd Zeile, BAL
Bernie Williams, NYY
Adam Kennedy, ANA
Jim Thome, CLE
Jeffrey Leonard, SF
*Staub, Strawberry and Kennedy actually appeared in just four of the games in the series. Atlanta's Hank Aaron clubbed three homers in the 1969 NLCS, the most by any player who appeared in just three games.
"We could have maybe scratched out a couple two-out hits and things would have changed," Bagwell said. "We talked about this before the series started. The team that gets the two-out hits is probably going to be the team that has the best shot at winning this thing.
"They've done that the first two days. They've gotten a ton of runs with two outs. I think 10 runs at least with two outs, in two games. That's a ton."
It also helped that two of four Cardinals home runs occurred with men on base, while Houston's were both solos.
"We both have the ability to hit home runs," Bagwell said. "They just happened to hit two big ones. Actually, they hit four big ones. It was another great game between the Cardinals and the Astros. Unfortunately for us, they got those two home runs in the eighth."
Miceli, who last pitched Sunday against the Braves, acknowledged that the pitches he threw to Pujols and Rolen weren't very good.
Dan Miceli / P
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I left a couple pitches up," he said. "It was one of those days. Our spirits are up still. Hopefully the bullpen will get it together and pick up the team, and we can go from there."
Did Garner consider using closer Brad Lidge in that eighth-inning situation?
"Had we gone ahead, I was going to do that," Garner said. "I would have used him two innings. If we got through the eighth inning still tied, I was going to use him for a couple innings, too."
Lidge was never given that chance, partly because the Astros opted to pitch aggressively to Pujols, whose three hits in four at-bats cost them.
"You have to keep them in the ballpark," Beltran said. "They have power, but I don't think they have a lot of speed, except [Tony] Womack. If you make those guys get singles or doubles, we'll have an opportunity to beat them."
The Astros have two more chances to do so this weekend at Minute Maid Park.
"We feel like we're in good shape, not from a standpoint of being down 0-2, but in the next couple days, we have the right kind of matchups," Berkman said. "Anytime you can put Roger Clemens and Roy on the mound in back-to-back days, you've got a pretty good chance to win both of those games."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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