Lidge strikes out five in two innings

HOUSTON -- No bullpen collapse by the Houston Astros this
time. Brad Lidge was on the mound.

The Astros closer allowed just one hit and struck out five in two innings Saturday, protecting a lead and helping Houston beat
the St. Louis Cardinals 5-2 in Game 3 of the NL championship series.

"He got the job done, that's important," manager Phil Garner said. "And we won it. That's the most important thing."

Lidge, whose 17 saves since mid-August led the majors, didn't appear in the first two games in St. Louis because the Astros'
middle-inning relievers blew save chances that put Houston into an
0-2 series hole.

Garner didn't take any chances this time and turned to Lidge, generally a ninth-inning specialist, in the eighth after Roger Clemens departed with Houston leading 3-2.

"I was really happy to get into the game," Lidge said. "It
was a little different from the standard one inning, but I don't
have a problem with it."

Lidge got Tony Womack to open the eighth by lining out to Lance Berkman in right. Larry Walker, who greeted Clemens with a homer in the first, struck out swinging. Albert Pujols lined a single to left, but Lidge needed just three pitches to strike out Scott Rolen.

"He throws the ball 97 mph and he's got one of the best sliders in the league," Rolen said. "The best thing for us is if they
give him the day off tomorrow."

Carlos Beltran and Berkman increased Houston's lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the inning with solo homers.

"That was huge," Lidge said. "It really gave me a little bit of breathing room. Obviously, in a one-run game you've got to be
fine with pitches."

In the ninth, Jim Edmonds walked on a 3-2 count, but Edgar Renteria watched an 86 mph slider go by for a called third strike.
Lidge got Reggie Sanders to look at the same pitch on a 1-2 count
for the second out.

Pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson was hit by a pitch on an 0-2 count, putting the potential tying run at the plate. But Lidge fanned
pinch-hitter John Mabry on yet another slider and the Astros had
their first victory in the series.

"That kid is really learning how to shine on the big stage," Clemens said. "He's got just electric stuff."

Lidge set an NL record for strikeouts by a reliever in a single season with 157 -- fourth-best all time -- while saving 29 games after taking over as the Astros' closer in late-June when Octavio Dotel was traded.

"With Brad Lidge in there, we're in pretty good shape," first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "He's been doing it all year. And he's a big part of the reason we're here now. He's just been dominant at the end of a game."

Added Berkman: "He's been closing people down and now we expect that from him."