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Astros hit 4 HRs in loss

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Make no mistake about it -- this is a sluggers'
series.

Albert Pujols homered early, Larry Walker delivered three key
hits and the St. Louis Cardinals withstood four Houston shots to
outlast the Astros 10-7 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

"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."

Slumping Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds also contributed, and
winning pitcher Woody Williams even helped out with a big double
for the league's top-hitting team.

Together, that was enough -- barely -- to withstand homers by
Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, Jeff Kent and Mike Lamb.

And it was a significant victory: The last 11 teams to win the
opener of the NLCS have gone on to the World Series.

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.

"They can hurt you in a hurry and they did tonight," Berkman
said. "When a team gets on a roll like they did, it's like a tidal
wave."

In an October when the ball is flying, the Cardinals and Astros
took turns whacking shots all over Busch Stadium, with Walker finishing 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 his final at-bat.

"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."

Now, unheralded Pete Munro gets his chance to try to slow down
the team that led the majors with 105 victories. A guy who started
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 overnight. 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.

Garner added: "We couldn't quite get the outs that we needed."

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. Tony Womack and Walker added RBI singles, and another run scored on shortstop Jose Vizcaino's bounced throw before Edmonds' big double.

"There's nobody in the dugout saying, 'Let's make a statement
by scoring a crooked number here,'" Cardinals manager Tony La
Russa said. "You just try to score as much as you can, as often as
you can."

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

Both teams came out swinging from their heels.

Craig Biggio led off the game with a sharp single past Williams'
head and Beltran followed with a laser over the right-field wall
for his fifth homer of this postseason.

Before the sellout crowd of 52,323 could get too antsy, the
Cardinals took their turn and quickly tied the score.

After Womack lined out, Walker hit a drive that seemed to fool
Berkman, and the ball eluded the right fielder's awkward lunge for
a triple.

Pujols was up next, and he reached for an outside pitch and sent
an opposite-field shot into the Cardinals' bullpen in right. The
St. Louis star's third homer of this postseason was against one of
his favorite victims -- Backe. It was Pujols' third home run in only
six lifetime at-bats against him.

That was the Cardinals' only homer, however.

"You don't have to live with the long ball," Pujols said.

When Edmonds lined a two-out single, it looked as if it might be
a short night for Backe, pitching on three days' rest for the first
time in his career.

But somehow, the converted outfielder from the Tampa Bay system
quickly settled into a groove and struck out six of the next eight
batters.

After Kent hit a two-run homer in the fourth for a 4-2 lead,
Backe almost gave it back in the bottom half. He hit Edmonds and
issued his first walk, to Edgar Renteria, bringing Garner to the
mound.

Right after Garner got done patting him on the chest, Backe got
Reggie Sanders to ground into an inning-ending double play on the
next pitch.

Game notes:
Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith threw out the first
ball. ... 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.