After Roger Clemens helped bring the Astros back into the National League Championship Series with a strong outing in Houston's 5-2 victory in Game 3, Roy Oswalt gets his crack at the hard-hitting St. Louis Cardinals in Sunday afternoon's Game 4.
It's as tough an assignment as there is in baseball, but Clemens showed the way by combining with closer Brad Lidge to hold the Cardinals to just five hits on Saturday.
Now, with the Cardinals still leading the series, 2-1, it's on Oswalt as much as anyone to determine the full extent of the momentum swing when the two teams square off in a 4:19 p.m. ET start Sunday. Cardinals starter Jason Marquis obviously will have a lot to do with the outcome as well, but Oswalt's the one with the Cy Young credentials this year.
A gem and a win by Oswalt ties up the series. A loss puts the Astros one game away from elimination.
"This is something that you want to do growing up, for sure," Oswalt said. "[You want to have] a team depend on you to go out there and produce when you get out there."
When the series came to Houston, the Cardinals had a ton of momentum gained by the first two victories in St. Louis. But the Astros felt confident having Clemens and Oswalt lined up in hopes of tying up the series quickly.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa understands that, but he knows his Cardinals haven't lost a bit of their confidence themselves.
"Well, if I was in that clubhouse, that's what I'd be saying," La Russa said. "In our clubhouse, we played ourselves into an edge in the series and, I mean, I was really pleased with what I saw [Saturday]. We were grinding those at-bats like we needed to. We pitched well enough to give us a chance to win, [until those] late two home runs.
Roy Oswalt / P
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I feel like we've earned the edge, and somewhere, somehow, we'll make that edge pay off because we're going to play the same way [Sunday]."
Marquis could help out by rebounding after a rough outing, much the way he did in the regular season. Marquis lasted only 3 1/3 innings in his Division Series start against Los Angeles, though the Cardinals went on to an 8-3 victory after he left.
However, the series truly does turn on how Oswalt handles the Cardinals' hitters. He went 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA against them in three starts this year, allowing two runs on nine hits to get the win on Sept. 27.
Oswalt has been following the Hall of Fame leader all year long. The Astros and Clemens hope he can in the biggest start of Oswalt's life.
"I'm fairly comfortable -- very comfortable -- watching Roy go tomorrow," Clemens said after his excellent seven-inning performance. "Again, he has a very, very bright future, also. It should be a lot of fun."
Jason Marquis / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R
For Oswalt, the 2004 season has been all about following the lead of Clemens. Of course, there might not be a better lead to follow.
"Any time you have a Hall of Fame-status guy on the pitching staff, it's going to help the whole pitching staff," Oswalt said. "No matter if he came in and won 10 ballgames, just being around that type of status guy is going to make you try to try harder, I guess you would say. ... [From] the beginning of the year, I think the spunk that he brings to the game, it makes everyone play harder, even the older guys on the team. They see him going out there and acting like it's his first game in the big leagues."
Thanks to Clemens, the Astros aren't facing the possibility of Game 4 being their last game of 2004.
The Astros certainly have thrived with their backs against the wall all season long. Being down 2-0 wasn't exactly their first brush with adversity.
"All you've got to do is win is two games to get back in it," said Lance Berkman, who homered in the eighth inning on Saturday. "To win the Wild Card, we had to win 36 out of 46."
John Schlegel 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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