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Izzy keeps Cards in the mix

Izzy keeps Cards in the mix

HOUSTON -- St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen leaned in to hear Albert Pujols' advice amidst bedlam at Minute Maid Park, as the crowd was trying to yell the Houston Astros to their first World Series.

"I couldn't hear him," Isringhausen said. "I think he said 'Get three outs,' hopefully.

"Their fans are dancing. Probably some of their players are dancing. What do you expect when you've got Brad Lidge going out?"

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But Isringhausen pitched two innings for just the second time all year. Between each 1-2-3 frame, Pujols knocked an improbable three-run homer off Lidge in the top of the ninth. By the time Isringhausen was done, the Cardinals had won, 5-4, and Isringhausen's scream pierced a silent stadium.

Because of the victory, the cheers will be for the Cardinals when the National League Championship Series returns to Busch Stadium for Game 6 on Wednesday night.

Isringhausen entered in the eighth with the Cards trailing, 4-2, and vanquished the Astros easily.

But the joint was still giddy with Lidge facing hitter Nos. 8, 9 and 1. He fanned the first two. But David Eckstein worked a single on a good one-strike pitch, Jim Edmonds drew a walk, and Pujols crashed a two-strike pitch for a no-doubt home run.

Only Isringhausen couldn't fully enjoy the moment.

"I was worried about me going back out there and getting three outs, because if I was to go out there and screw that one up, I wouldn't be able to go home," Isringhausen said.

He hates Minute Maid Park, and he has numbers to back him. In 13 previous regular- and postseason appearances there, he had given up seven earned runs in 16 1/3 innings, and seen three home runs sail. And allowing any baserunner would have meant he would have faced Astros slugger Lance Berkman, whose three-run homer off Chris Carpenter in the seventh -- the kind of pop to the left-field porch that makes Isringhausen grit his teeth and differentiate Minute Maid from "a real ballpark" -- had driven the place to bedlam.

"The last thing we need is more dramatics in this place," he said.

"They were in the same situation in the ninth that we were in the ninth, except they had a two-run lead and we had a one-run lead," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "So if one guy gets on, it's Berkman. If two guys get on, it's [Morgan] Ensberg, who's been tough on Izzy. So it was a great 1-2-3."

Isringhausen felt he already had received a break. Houston manager Phil Garner had removed veteran second baseman Craig Biggio for defensive purposes. Using Eric Bruntlett in Biggio's stead on Sunday helped result in a game-ending double play, but Isringhausen preferred not facing Biggio.

"Not taking anything away from Bruntlett, but he's not a 16-year vet," Isringhausen said.

Isringhausen worked Willy Taveras into a second-pitch grounder to first. Jose Vizcaino batted for Bruntlett and lasted eight pitches before grounding to first. Isringhausen earned the right to exhale loudly by working Chris Burke into a fly ball to right.

It wasn't an ideal situation at all for Isringhausen.

The last time he went two innings was at Minute Maid Park on Sept. 2, when he gave up tying home runs in the ninth and 10th and watched the Cardinals lose in 13 innings, 6-5. Also, after not throwing more than 29 pitches in a game all season (he did it twice), Isringhausen needed 33 on Monday.

Not that he minded the extra work.

"I could've gone four or five," he said. "That's just part of it."

But it was better to finish after two innings, and take in the silence.

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

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