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Cards end season with Game 6 loss

Cards end season with Game 6 loss

ST. LOUIS -- A dramatic National League Championship Series, a remarkable Cardinals season and beloved Busch Stadium all deserved better, but Roy Oswalt was all business and in no mood for sentiment.

Oswalt and the Astros beat St. Louis, 5-1, in Game 6 of the NLCS on Wednesday, stopping the Cardinals two wins short of their second consecutive NL pennant. The game was the last that will ever be played at Busch Stadium. The old ballpark will be replaced by a new one with the same name for next season.

It was an anticlimactic defeat, with Houston taking an early lead and St. Louis never mounting a serious threat against Oswalt or the Astros bullpen. Mark Mulder lasted only 4 2/3 innings, and Jason Marquis was touched for a pair of runs in relief.

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Wednesday's story, as was the case for much of the series for St. Louis, was an offense that just couldn't put runs on the board. Oswalt deserves a great deal of credit for handcuffing the Cardinals over seven innings, but that took away little of the sting for the team that finished third in the National League in runs scored in the regular season. The Cardinals were held to four hits, three of them singles.

"Oswalt just went out there and did a great job," said David Eckstein, who went 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch. "He was dominating. He dominated us tonight."

At times in the NLCS, St. Louis was unable to capitalize on opportunities. On Wednesday, the Cardinals scarcely even had any. They had just three plate appearances with runners in scoring position all night. In only two innings did they manage a baserunner with fewer than two outs.

It was distressingly reminiscent of last year's World Series, when St. Louis was swept by Boston in four games while being held quiet offensively over the final three games.

"Those guys are tough," said Jim Edmonds, who hit .211 with no RBIs for the series. "They really are. It's not a guy going up there throwing 90-91 [mph] with a breaking ball and a changeup. This guy has got six pitches, 97 mph, and then you've got [Andy] Pettitte and [Roger] Clemens with four or five pitches each, 90-93. We just got stopped by some good pitching. That's what's going to happen."

Uncharacteristically, the Cardinals were also burned by some less-than-crisp defense, leading to the first two Houston runs.

After Brad Ausmus' third-inning single, Albert Pujols ranged far to his right to try to field Adam Everett's grounder. But the ball got through to Mark Grudzielanek, and with Pujols so far off first, Mulder had to rush to cover the bag. He didn't get there in time, and Everett had a single.

"It just kind of happened in slow motion," Mulder said. "Albert kind of dove for it, and my first thought was that he was there, he'd get it and step on first. Then it got by him. I went over there and Grud, he threw it right away, so it was bang-bang. I knew I wasn't quite there on time, but it just kind of happened in slow motion."

Oswalt bunted the runners to second and third, but Mulder passed on what looked like a good chance to throw out the lead runner on the play. Mulder then fired a wild pitch that allowed the game's first run to score, and Craig Biggio followed with an RBI single that made it 2-0. Jason Lane crushed a solo homer 401 feet to left field to extend the lead to 3-0 in the fourth, and Mulder was gone before the end of the fifth.

"Nothing changed," Mulder said. "I just didn't make quite as good pitches [after the second inning]. I don't know. I really wanted to do a good job tonight. The way I felt, I felt good going into this game. it's just disappointing the way everything turned out for the fans and the city. You really want to do well at a time like this. It just didn't work out."

That all happened, meanwhile, before St. Louis even picked up its first base hit. Oswalt pitched four-plus hitless innings before Yadier Molina dropped a looper into shallow right to put a one in the hits column on the scoreboard.

The knock led to a run, at least. Grudzielanek, who had been hit by a pitch, took second on the Molina bloop. Abraham Nunez hit a comebacker at Oswalt, who fired to Everett covering second base. Everett appeared to miss Molina with a tag attempt, but even so, it was the only out on a potential double-play ball. The next batter, John Rodriguez, lifted a sacrifice fly that cut it to 3-1.

Houston got the run right back with a play that's gone for the Cardinals many more times than against them this year. In the top of the sixth, a pair of singles put runners on the corners. After working a 3-1 count, Everett dropped a squeeze bunt that scored Chris Burke for an insurance run against Jason Marquis. The Astros pushed across another when Morgan Ensberg singled home Biggio in the seventh.

Chad Qualls pitched a perfect eighth, and Dan Wheeler allowed a base hit, but no runs in the ninth as the Astros secured their first World Series trip in franchise history.

"Personally, it was frustrating as [heck]," said Larry Walker, who announced his retirement after the game. "I didn't play well and we didn't play well and we lost. I don't know what else to say. It wasn't the way my wife and I pictured it. We always envisioned going out on top, riding down 11th Street or wherever they would have the parade and having stuff thrown all over you."

Matthew Leach 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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