Astros win seesaw showdown

Astros win seesaw showdown

HOUSTON -- Prior to Friday, in 50 games this season, the Astros had no come-from-behind wins when trailing after seven innings. None. Zilch. Nada.

They made up for that gaping hole on the stat sheet, coming back after trailing in the ninth, 10th and 13th innings, to beat the Cardinals, 6-5, at Minute Maid Park.

The final blow was Eric Bruntlett's bases-loaded single off Al Reyes in the 13th, a clean shot to left field that sparked the crowd of 38,511 into a frenetic celebration, one that spilled onto the field as Bruntlett took his share of well-intentioned taps on the helmet from his teammates.

It was the second final at-bat, game-winning hit that Bruntlett has produced this year. He also knocked an 11th-inning homer to beat the Nationals in Washington in July.

But this one, hit in front of the home crowd, had to feel just a tad better.

"It's a little more exciting to do it at home," said Bruntlett. "For one, the game's over when it happens. But also, just to have the home crowd ... Everybody's going crazy for quite some time after it happens. And even before, the whole inning. Every time we threatened, the place goes nuts."

The fans were more or less on their feet for the final four innings of this back-and-forth contest, which featured the team with the most home wins in baseball (Houston) against the only club in the National League with a winning record on the road (St. Louis).

"The one thing we haven't done much is come back," said Orlando Palmeiro. "It's great to do that and have the feeling that we can do it."

The Astros were down by a run in the ninth until Morgan Ensberg deposited a Jason Isringhausen fastball into the Astros' bullpen in right center.

They were down again in the 10th, until Brad Ausmus knocked a solo homer off Isringhausen to tie the game at 4.

And they were down in the 13th until a couple of unlikely heroes took advantage of their opportunities in different ways. Palmeiro's contribution was being hit by a Ray King pitch with the bases loaded. That knotted the game at 5.

"Once I could actually think, I was happy that the game was tied," said Palmeiro, gesturing toward Ausmus. "Because I knew there was a very good chance we were going to win it with homeboy here coming up next."

"Homeboy" flew out to right, but Bruntlett, a midgame defensive replacement, worked the count to 2-2 before sending the Astros to their fourth consecutive win.

The Astros, who have struggled offensively this year, especially when facing good pitchers, did not downplay the signficance of such a dramatic victory against one of the best teams in the game.

   Morgan Ensberg  /   3B
Born: 08/26/75
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

"We need to make sure we understand all the positive things we did tonight," said Ensberg, "and not just take it as a great win. We need to understand that this was a growing up of sorts as a team. We can't just chalk this up to saying, 'This was a great comeback win.' We need to play this way for the next month. That's our only chance to get into the playoffs. We can't die. We have to go down swinging."

The Astros maintained their second-place position in the National League Wild Card standings, and are a half-game behind the Phillies in that race. Now that it's September, the club seemingly feels that it's OK to start talking about the Wild Card hunt, a topic most wanted to avoid through a rough August.

"This was a much more important game for us than for the Cardinals," said Ausmus, who hit over .300 in July and August. "We're fighting for our lives at this point. We're the ones in a pennant race. They're umpteen games up with a month to go."

"It was sure a good game to win after a little bit of futility along the way," said manager Phil Garner. "I would hope it would give us some momentum, but it certainly feels good right now."

Four relief pitchers finished the job after Ezequiel Astacio allowed three runs over 5 1/3 innings. Chad Qualls, who yielded a solo homer to Jim Edmonds in the 13th, was credited with his fourth win of the season.

"This [win] was huge, because we used so many pitchers and they threw so many innings," said Craig Biggio. "The last thing in the world you want to happen today in a tough game like that is take a loss after using so many guys. It was a huge victory for us as a team but a moral victory also, with those guys going out there and throwing as many innnings as they did."

The Cardinals are 9-3 over the Astros in the season series, but eight of the 12 games have been decided by two runs or fewer. Friday's game carried an intensity similar to last year's National League Championship Series, during which the home team won all its games.

"There's no doubt that this felt like a playoff game, especially in the later innings," said Ensberg. "The crowd was going bananas, you can't hear. It's an awesome environment to play in."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.