HOUSTON -- Jeff Kent watched the ball for just a moment after he scorched a liner toward the stands in left field at Minute Maid Park, and a moment is all it took for the ball to clear the fence.
Then it was business as usual for Kent, who was playing through the pain of a bruised left ankle but put the hurt on the Cardinals first on Saturday in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
After Kent turned on a full-count offering from Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan, the crowd of 42,896 roared like they hadn't seen an NLCS homer in Houston in 18 years -- which they hadn't.
Amid the celebration, the slugging second baseman simply set off on his normal efficient trot after he lit the fuse for the Astros' 5-2 win with a two-run shot in the first inning.
And, just as much true to form, he had little to say after the game about the individual achievement of his seventh career postseason homer.
"We won the ballgame," Kent said. "You put together some good things in this game, and you hope it's better than what they've got."
The first good thing for the Astros was Lance Berkman's single, evening the score after Larry Walker's solo homer off Roger Clemens in the top of the first. An even better thing for the Astros emerged when Kent drove home Berkman with his two-run shot to give The Rocket a two-run cushion.
"Obviously, it was extremely nice for JK to put us right back in the game, get us the lead again," said Clemens. "Then it was a battle from there."
As Kent jogged around the bases, the message being sent was that there was a battle still to be waged in this one. Kent just kept his head down all the way through home plate and into the dugout, as he has done so many times in his career.
No dance, no pumping of his fist. Just a round-trip back to the dugout, where his teammates welcomed him in equally businesslike fashion.
"Guys were excited," said catcher Brad Ausmus. "For me, I'm not jumping around. It's the first inning. We've got a lot of game in front of us. They've got a pretty good lineup, so 3-1 is rarely a large enough lead against that Cardinals team."
Jeff Kent / 2B
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
After the Cardinals and their fans had enjoyed so many curtain calls so far this postseason, there was no time for one here.
"You can't throw a parade yet," Ausmus said. "We're down two games to none, up 3-1 in the first inning. It's not time to throw a parade."
As it turned out, Kent's homer was just the beginning of the long-ball parade for the Astros. His was the first of a trio of them that sent the crowd at Minute Maid Park roaring to its feet, preceding Carlos Beltran's seventh postseason homer and Berkman's third for insurance in the eighth inning.
For Kent, just being out there right now is a study in playing through pain. He'd already fouled a ball off his left ankle in Game 5 of the NLDS againast Atlanta before cranking one pretty much on the same spot in Game 1 of the NLCS. He's been wearing an ankle guard since.
Although Astros manager Phil Garner made a defensive replacement for Kent late in Game 1, Kent has played every inning of the past two games. The 36-year-old veteran of 13 Major League seasons knows it's no time to heal up from those types of things.
In his fifth postseason run, there's nothing that will keep Kent off the field.
"You've just got to play and suck it up," Kent said. "You play a long year, and it's been wearing my legs out. But there aren't any excuses when you get to the playoffs."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
The following are trademarks or service marks of Major League Baseball entities and may be used only with permission of Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. or the relevant Major League Baseball entity: Major League, Major League Baseball, MLB, the silhouetted batter logo, World Series, National League, American League, Division Series, League Championship Series, All-Star Game, and the names, nicknames, logos, uniform designs, color combinations, and slogans designating the Major League Baseball clubs and entities, and their respective mascots, events and exhibitions.