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Astros' division lead shrinks to half game

9/21/2003

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The NL Central will be decided in the final
week of the season, and the St. Louis Cardinals have an outside
chance to win.

Edgar Renteria had a key two-run double to back Sterling
Hitchcock as the Cardinals beat Houston 6-4 Sunday, cutting the
Astros' NL Central lead to a half-game over Chicago.

So Taguchi hit a two-run homer for St. Louis, which took two of
three from Houston and closed within four games of the lead. Last
weekend, the Astros swept the Cardinals in a three-game series in
Houston.

"It was neat after losing three down there to get two out of
three here," Hitchcock said. "Nobody wants to get eliminated.
This shows a lot about this club and its character."

Houston (84-71), which failed to hold a 3-0 lead, had won six of
eight.

The Astros close the season at home with three games against NL
West champion San Francisco and four against Milwaukee. The
Cardinals (81-76) finish with two games at the Brewers and three at
Arizona.

"The years we've won have usually gone down to the last week,"
Houston's Craig Biggio said. "It's always a grind. We have the
right mixture of veterans and young players to handle it."

Hitchcock (4-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in five
innings, and Josh Pearce, Cal Eldred and Steve Kline worked an
inning apiece, allowing a total of three hits. Jason Isringhausen
finished for his 19th save in 22 chances.

"We don't want to put ourselves out of it," Isringhausen said.
"If someone else puts us out of it, then that's different."

Jeriome Robertson (15-8) gave up five runs and five hits in 4
1-3 innings. He had won his previous three starts.

"I might have had too much adrenaline," Robertson said. "I
was getting the ball up and way. When your team puts a lead up for
you, you want to keep it."

Lance Berkman was 3-for-3 with a two-run homer, and Adam Everett
and Jeff Kent drove in a run apiece for Houston, which won the
season series 11-7. The Astros went 39-42 on the road this year,
while St. Louis went 48-33 at home.

Renteria's opposite-field double chased Robertson and tied the
score 4-4 in the fifth. He has 98 RBI, two shy of becoming the
first NL shortstop to drive in 100 runs since Hubie Brooks with the
Expos in 1985.

"That's a lot," Renteria said. "This time of the year,
they're all big."

Eli Marrero's single off the leg of reliever Ricky Stone drove
in the go-ahead run later in the fifth. Scott Rolen added an RBI
double in the seventh off Jared Fernandez.

Everett's RBI single in the second and Berkman's two-run homer
in the fourth had put the Astros ahead 3-0. While it was Berkman's
24th home run, it was only his third this year batting right-handed
and his first overall since Aug. 30.

Taguchi hit his second homer in the fourth, a two-run drive. He
also threw out Everett trying to advance to third on pinch-hitter
Jose Vizcaino's single to center in the eighth.

Kent had an RBI single in the fifth as Houston went ahead 4-2.
He's batting .370 (20-for-54) during a 13-game hitting streak that
matches his career best.

Game notes
Robertson had a 2.41 ERA his previous three starts. He
finished 2-1 with a 5.06 ERA against the Cardinals this year. ...
Taguchi was subbing for injured CF Jim Edmonds, who missed fourth
straight start. ... The Cardinals drew 2,910,366 at home, their
first season below 3 million since 1997.