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Cards beat by Berkman in opener

Cards beat by Berkman in opener

HOUSTON -- A mistake pitch to a hitter with 22 homers in eight big league seasons shouldn't beat you. A bobble on a bang-bang play with the bases empty and nobody on base shouldn't beat you. Even having a runner doubled up on a hit-and-run shouldn't beat you.

In point of fact, none of those things beat the Cardinals on Friday night. That distinction ultimately goes to Lance Berkman's homer in the ninth inning, a one-out, solo, walk-off shot that sent St. Louis to a 3-2 loss to the Astros. But without all of those twists, Berkman never gets the chance to be the hero.

And the Cardinals surely know at this point that if they give Berkman that chance, he's likely to seize it.

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"He's done it before," lamented manager Tony La Russa.

The defeat knocked St. Louis 4 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the race for the National League Wild Card with 27 games remaining on the schedule. The Cardinals trail the first-place Cubs by 11 games, their largest deficit to first place since the end of the 1999 season.

For six innings, starter Kyle Lohse cruised and the Cards scratched out two runs against a very tough Randy Wolf. But history makes it clear that no game at Minute Maid Park is what it appears to be in the seventh inning. At this park, when these two teams play, the first three-quarters of the game are merely prologue. To stretch the literary metaphor to a breaking point, though, the seventh and eighth innings provided plenty of foreshadowing for what was to come in the ninth.

Troy Glaus' barehanded bobble set up the tying runs. With two outs in the seventh and Lohse breezing, Hunter Pence hit a grounder to Glaus, who tried to field it barehanded. Glaus couldn't get a handle on the ball and Pence reached, bringing up David Newhan.

"It was close to the line," Glaus said. "If it was further fair, then yeah, you go glove. But because it was to the line, you don't have time. You field it with the glove, then you've got to catch it, turn, you've got a couple extra steps."

Still, with Newhan following, it shouldn't have been a deciding play. The utilityman entered Friday night with an unimposing .378 lifetime slugging percentage, and an average of a homer every 43 at-bats. But he got a 3-1 fastball over the plate and he turned on it, depositing it just inside the right-field foul pole. Tie game.

"[The pitch] cut," Lohse explained. "It was supposed to be a sinker and it was the only one all night that cut. Down and in, right to his hot spot. Everybody's here because they can hit. You respect everybody. He did a good job of getting that one pitch that I made a mistake with. He's a big league hitter."

In the next half-inning, the Cards threatened to take the lead back against reliever Chris Sampson. Felipe Lopez singled to lead off the inning. On a hit-and-run play, Cesar Izturis lined a ball right at Pence, who doubled Lopez off. Skip Schumaker grounded out, and Albert Pujols was left on deck.

Lohse worked through the eighth with the tie intact, but handed the ball over to Russ Springer for the ninth. Springer got Miguel Tejada to ground out for the first out. On a 2-0 pitch, Berkman crushed a ball to right but foul. On the 2-1, he hit one fair to left for the game-ender.

"I threw the ball away where I wanted to," said Springer, a former teammate of Berkman's in Houston. "It was just a little bit up and he did a good job of staying with it just enough. He's the hitter he is for a reason. He doesn't have to pull a ball to do damage. I've seen him do it first-hand for years. He's a clutch hitter."

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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