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Opener not dandy for Andy

Pettitte struggles pitching on sore knee

ST. LOUIS -- From the outset, it was a tough night for Astros left-hander Andy Pettitte. Running toward third base during batting practice, Pettitte was smoked on the inside of the right knee by a line drive off the bat of teammate and fellow pitcher Roy Oswalt.

Pettitte took a pain-killing shot in the leg to numb the swollen area and was then smoked by the Cardinals, who ran off to a 5-0 lead on their way to a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.

"I got hit and we took care of it, the doctors did what they could to help me with it," Pettitte said after the game. "It was a freak accident. Unbelievable. I thought I jumped over it, but it kept breaking toward the inside of my knee. I felt good going out there. But I was terrible. I never got in a good rhythm at all throughout the six innings I threw.

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"I gave them two runs in the first inning making extremely bad pitches. I'm just extremely disappointed in starting off the series and the game like that."

Though Pettitte insisted that the injury didn't affect him, the Cards led 2-0 in the first inning by virtue of Reggie Sanders' two-run homer and extended the lead to 5-0 through five innings. Pettitte worked six innings, allowing five runs on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts. His trademark sinker didn't have any bite and he struggled putting pitches in the strike zone.

He appeared sluggish, consistently falling behind in the count against the patient Cardinals hitters, saying his leg still felt sore long after he left the game because, "I pitched six innings on it."

Astros manager Phil Garner didn't dismiss the fact that Pettitte had struggled because of the knee injury. Coming into the game, he hadn't allowed more than three runs during a single outing since June 14.

"The thing swelled up on him pretty bad," Garner said. "He's pitched brilliant ball down the stretch. It was the inside of the right knee, which is his landing knee. I think it was a factor for him. It might have affected him a bit. He won't say it did, but it did. He wasn't as sharp with his control."

The Cardinals have taken advantage of less than stellar opposition starting pitching during their first four games of the postseason, all of them victories.

In last week's Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Padres, they jumped all over Jake Peavy, San Diego's ace, for eight runs on eight hits before Peavy was removed during the fifth inning. After the game, the Padres revealed that the right-hander was pitching with at least one cracked rib.

In 16 innings against four starters this postseason, the Cards have scored 22 runs on 25 hits, taking leads of 8-0, 4-0, 7-0 and 5-0 before the opposition scored its first runs.

In any event, Pettitte, the former Yankees hurler, tossing only his second playoff game in two seasons with the Astros, couldn't control the defending National League champions, who outdistanced the Astros by 11 games this season to win the NL Central.

"I don't think he ever got comfortable on the mound," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said about Pettitte, the ex-Yankee whose last game in New York was a losing effort in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series at Yankee Stadium as the Marlins clinched. "Some days you go out there and you never get a good feel for your release point or feel for the ball. He was battling that a little bit."

Pettitte had elbow surgery during the 2004 season and missed the Astros' postseason -- a five-game NL Division Series victory over the Braves and a seven-game loss to the Cardinals in the NLCS.

But this year, he had been clicking on all cylinders, finishing 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA, and he was the winning pitcher against the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS. It was the 14th postseason win of his career, tying him with Atlanta's John Smoltz for the most postseason wins ever, though Smoltz reclaimed the lead the following day.

This past Sunday, Pettitte, three of his four kids, and his wife all came down with a 24-hour virus on the day the Astros played their epic 18-inning game to oust the Braves again in the NLDS at Minute Maid Park. Pettitte went home from the ballpark suffering from nausea and later returned just in case the Astros needed him.

He said there wasn't any residue of the bug and looked no worse for the wear at Tuesday's pre-series workout. Pettitte discounted both the virus and the knee injury as reasons for his performance on Wednesday night.

"They got me feeling pretty good," Pettitte said about the aftermath of the line drive hit by Oswalt, who's slated to start Game 2 for the Astros on Thursday night against Cards left-hander Mark Mulder. "You've got to give [the Cardinals] a lot of credit. I made bad pitches and they took advantage of it and hurt me with it. It was a bad effort on my part."

Asked if the combination of swelling and soreness might keep him from pitching again in the series, Pettitte completely dismissed that notion.

"No, I don't foresee me missing a start," he said. "No chance."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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