for this game

Berkman hits two homers to beat Carpenter, Cardinals

Sep 22, 2006 - 3:03 AM HOUSTON (Ticker) -- The St. Louis Cardinals were looking to reduce their magic number. But it was Lance Berkman who provided the magic.

Berkman belted two homers, including a go-ahead shot in the bottom of the eighth inning against Chris Carpenter, as the Houston Astros rallied for a 6-5 victory over the Cardinals in the opener of a four-game series.

Dave Borkowski (2-2) pitched three perfect innings in relief of Andy Pettitte and Orlando Palmeiro provided a two-run single for Houston (74-78), which kept alive its slim playoff hopes.

The Astros are tied with Cincinnati, 6 1/2 games behind St. Louis (80-71) in the National League Central Division, and moved within five games of Los Angeles and Philadelphia in the wild card race.

"Chances are not good, but if we can keep that little glimmer of hope alive, these games are fun," Berkman said. "We need to sweep them (in four games) to have any chance at all, and we'd still be 3 1/2 back. I'm not going to get too excited."

Berkman almost singlehandedly prevented St. Louis from reducing its magic number to four. He hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning off the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to cut the deficit to 3-2 and did in the major league ERA leader four frames later.

With the Cardinals leading, 5-4, in the eighth, manager Tony La Russa decided to stick with Carpenter and have his ace pitch to Berkman with a runner on second and two outs.

"I kick myself in that eighth inning," La Russa said. "I should have made a trip (to the mound) before the Berkman at-bat. (Carpenter's) been tough on Berkman, but when Berkman's up, that would have been a good time. I left those two guys out there all alone and that wasn't good. I blame myself for that."

"I was a little surprised (they pitched to me), but I wasn't shocked," Berkman said. "I thought it might be one of those unintentional intentional walks. I think that's how it started out. He was going to try to make some tough pitches in. His ball moves an awful lot. I knew at 3-2, there's a chance he could throw the kitchen sink up there."

The switch-hitting Berkman made Carpenter pay by blasting a 3-2 offering over the right-center field wall for his 43rd homer of the season.

"It was a cutter," Berkman said of the pitch. "I think he was trying to come in with it, and it stayed out over the plate."

The shot set a career high for Berkman, who also leads all active players with six homers against Carpenter (15-7).

"Obviously, Lance had a nice night," Carpenter said. "I made some mistakes and he hit them hard. Besides that, I felt like I threw the ball pretty well. I was trying not to let him beat me (in the eighth), no question about it. It was a bad mistake."

In his typical comical fashion, Berkman said he actually broke his personal high for outside-the-park homers with his 42nd, since one he hit in 2002 was an inside-the-parker.

"I haven't run across anybody quite like him," Garner said of Berkman's combination of talent and relaxed style. "He does bring levity to every situation, which most of the time can be fun. Sometimes you wish he could see the seriousness of a situation. It works for him."

Carpenter, who recorded his 100th career triumph Saturday against San Francisco and had a 1.78 ERA over his previous seven starts, was tagged for six runs and nine hits. He struck out five and did not walk a batter in suffering his first loss since August 4 against Milwaukee.

Pettitte allowed five runs - one earned - and five hits in five innings.

"Andy struggled, no question," Garner said.

Pettitte had not started since September 12 in St. Louis, when he left the game after 2 2/3 ininngs with a strained muscle in his left elbow. He was scheduled to pitch Tuesday against Cincinnati but skipped the start because his father was in the hospital.

"I felt that it wasn't real good at all, very inconsistent on location," Pettitte said of his stuff. "I hadn't thrown much in the last 10 days."

Palmeiro's pinch single in the bottom of the fifth drew Houston within 5-4 and Borkowski kept St. Louis at bay until Berkman's heroics. Dan Wheeler logged a perfect ninth for his seventh save.

"Borkowski did a great job," Garner said. "That's why the middle relief guys are so important. You don't let them pile on (runs)."

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