10/17/2004 6:09 PM ET
Astros draw even in NLCS
Beltran's eighth homer of playoffs lifts club to win
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
|Carlos Beltran homered in his fifth consecutive game for the Astros on Sunday (David J. Phillips/AP)
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros have had all types of wins in the last two months during their unprecedented run of home victories that helped them reach the postseason.
There were easy wins, close wins, ugly wins and landslide wins. But then there are those like their 6-5 win over the Cardinals on Sunday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series that frazzled the nerves of every one of the 42,760 fans but ended with a Brad Lidge strikeout. It was a strikeout that -- according to Astros officials -- sparked a crowd response so loud that it registered 116 decibles under the closed roof at Minute Maid Park.
The series in now tied, 2-2. Only two clubs in Major League history have come back from an 0-2 deficit in the LCS to tie it at 2. Both of those clubs -- the 1984 Padres and the 1985 Cardinals -- advanced to the World Series.
The Astros played catch up for most of the afternoon until they received a decisive lift from Carlos Beltran, whose solo homer off Julian Tavarez in the seventh frame broke a 5-5 tie. Beltran's home run was his eighth of the postseason, tying him with Barry Bonds for the most all-time in the playoffs.
"He's getting good pitches to hit because I'm hitting behind him," joked Jeff Bagwell. "He can do every facet of the game as good as anybody in the game. His power, his arm strength, his speed -- there's nothing that Carlos cannot do."
Tavarez learned this the hard way. The pitch was down near the ankles, and Beltran's swing made him look more like Tiger Woods and less like one of the premier hitters in the league.
"Barry Bonds is the best hitter in baseball," Tavarez said. "But I don't think Barry would have hit that pitch."
|The Astros have slugged 22 home runs in the 2004 postseason through Game 4 of the NLCS:||Date
|Oct. 6||4||Ausmus, Berkman, Beltran and Lane||W 9-3|
|Oct. 7||2||Bagwell and Chavez||L 4-2|
|Oct. 9||1||Beltran||W 8-5|
|Oct. 10||1||Biggio||L 6-5|
|Oct. 11||3||Beltran (2) and Bagwell||W 12-3|
|Oct. 13||4||Beltran, Kent, Berkman, Lamb||L 10-7|
|Oct. 14||2||Beltran, Ensberg||L 6-4|
|Oct. 16||3||Kent, Beltran, Berkman||W 5-2|
|Oct. 17||2||Berkman, Beltran||W 6-5|
|The Astros are now second in NL postseason history behind the 2002 Giants, who slugged 27 homers, tops in Major League history.|
Said Beltran: "He's a guy that has a real good sinker, real good slider and also has a split. After I took two in the back door, I knew that he probably was going to be able to throw another one. So I just told myself, 'Just relax, stay back and try to put the ball in play.' That's what I did."
The Astros spent most of the game digging themselves out of a hole after starter Roy Oswalt allowed five runs over six innings. Down by two in the sixth, Lance Berkman knocked a leadoff homer off Kiko Calero, and with two outs, Jose Vizcaino doubled and scored the tying run on Raul Chavez's bloop single to shallow right-center.
The game became considerably heated in the seventh after Beltran's homer. Tavarez fell behind Bagwell, 3-0, and threw ball four over his head, missing Bagwell's helmet by inches. Bagwell muttered a few words in Tavarez's direction as he ran to first, and both benches were warned by home plate umpire Mike Winters.
Bagwell later declined to discuss what he said to Tavarez.
"It was a big series," Bagwell said. "That's just the initial reaction. There's nothing more to it. It's not a big deal. We have more important things to worry about than that. I just care about the win."
Enter Lidge, who threw 42 pitches on Saturday, but needed only seven to get through the bottom of the Cardinals order in the eighth. He struck out Hector Luna on three pitches, used three to induce a grounder from Yadier Molina and ended the frame when pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno swung meekly at Lidge's first offering and grounded to Bagwell.
The ninth was a bit more interesting. Bagwell made a spectacular diving catch on a Tony Womack liner, but Larry Walker walked on four pitches, bringing to the plate Albert Pujols, who was 3-for-3 with three RBIs heading into this at-bat. Pujols sent a fly ball to the warning track in left, an area where a seemingly lazy fly ball can turn into a first-row Crawford Box home run with the blink of an eye.
"Brad [Ausmus] came out and just kind of told me, 'Your stuff is fine,'" Lidge said. "'Just still be aggressive. Don't change anything now with a runner on first base.' I wanted to stay aggressive and go right after him."
|Carlos Beltran belted his LCS-record fourth homer of the series and eighth postseason homer in Game 4. Beltran has scored eight times and needs just one more run to tie for the most in an LCS. His 20 total bases are four shy of the LCS record. Players with the most homers in an LCS:|
|Carlos Beltran, HOU||2004||4||4|
|Bob Robertson, PIT||1971||4||4|
|Steve Garvey, LA||1978||4||4|
|Rusty Staub, NYM||1973||3||5*|
|Darryl Strawberry, NYY||1996||3||5*|
|Todd Zeile, BAL||1996||3||5|
|Bernie Williams, NYY||2001||3||5|
|Adam Kennedy, ANA||2002||3||5*|
|Jim Thome, CLE||1998||4||6|
|Jeffrey Leonard, SF||1987||4||7|
|*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, most by any player who appeared in just three games.|
Lidge followed up by striking out Scott Rolen, which sealed the closer's third postseason save.
Judging from manager Phil Garner's comments, this was always the plan.
"He came to the ballpark, said he felt great, that he felt better than yesterday," Garner said of Lidge. "I said, 'Good, you're going to pitch two innings today.' End of conversation. He said, 'Thanks, very good.'"
After the game, the Astros didn't want to hear about momentum shifts or that they only needed to win two of three to reach the World Series.
"I think we're numb, basically, to these must-win situations and these big games," Berkman said. "I think the attitude that we have is very good in that [we think], 'Hey, all we can do is put the uniform on, go out there and play the game and do the best we can. If we get beat, we get beat.' I think we've been in that mode for a long time, and that's part of the reason why we've been successful."
Can comeback wins have an impact on the next day's game?
"It just gives you a lot of faith in one another," Craig Biggio said. "Just trying to do what you're capable of doing and knowing that the guy behind you can pick you up. It's nothing we haven't been doing for the last month and a half."
And it is something they must continue to do for at least two more games.
"We knew playing in front of our home crowd was going to be a little bit easier for us, and we really play well in this ballpark," Beltran said. "Just being able to get back and tie this series, I think the pressure is on them."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.