ST. LOUIS (AP) – Yes, it is possible to win on the road in the NL championship series. Roy Oswalt showed the way for Houston, silencing the St. Louis Cardinals and all their red-clad fans.

Oswalt pitched seven stellar innings, closer Brad Lidge finished up and the Astros defeated the Cardinals 4-1 Thursday night, evening the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

Houston scrounged for a couple of runs off Mark Mulder – one scoring on a passed ball, the other on Craig Biggio’s groundout. The Astros added two more in the eighth off reliever Julian Tavares.

Division series hero Chris Burke came through again, scoring two runs and driving in another with a two-out single in the eighth – ending Houston’s 0-for-14 drought with runners in scoring position.

Lidge came on for a two-inning save, closing out the six-hitter with three strikeouts.

Oswalt allowed only five hits, struck out six and didn’t let a runner past second base except for Albert Pujols, who led off the sixth with a 438-foot home run that cleared the Houston bullpen. Otherwise, Oswalt made every big pitch he needed, improving his career postseason record to 3-0.

The Cardinals went 0-for-6 against the right-hander with runners in scoring position. Oswalt twice faced Jim Edmonds with two runners on – and came out on top both times against the dangerous left-handed hitter.

In the fifth, Edmonds took a called third strike on a 3-2 pitch. Two innings later, the crowd of 52,358 – nearly all of them adorned in red – was in an uproar after the Cardinals put runners at first and second with only one out.

But Oswalt retired David Eckstein with a fly ball to center, then got Edmonds on a grounder to first – the last of the starter’s 108 pitches. Oswalt covered on the play, pumping his fist after he took the flip from Lance Berkman.

The Central Division rivals are meeting in the NLCS for the second year in a row, and their first eight games all went to the home team.

The 2004 series went the distance, with St. Louis advancing to the World Series by winning four games at Busch Stadium. The streak continued with the Cardinals winning 5-3 in Game 1 Wednesday.

Now, St. Louis has to win at least one game in Texas – something it couldn’t do last year – to bring the series back to soon-to-be demolished Busch.

The next three games are in Houston, beginning with Saturday’s contest matching Roger Clemens of the Astros against St. Louis’ Matt Morris.

Burke’s run-scoring single off Tavares gave the Astros a 3-1 lead, and the runner came all the way around to score when Adam Everett tripled off the glove of left-fielder Reggie Sanders.

Sanders, the Cardinals’ hottest postseason hitter with 12 RBIs, fell awkwardly on the warning track and left the game. He sustained a sprained lower back.

Houston started quickly against Mulder, beginning the game with singles by Biggio and Willy Taveras. But Berkman struck out and Morgan Ensberg hit into a comebacker to Mulder, who started an inning-ending double play.

St. Louis led the majors with 196 double plays during the regular season, and this was their ninth in five postseason games.

But the Cardinals fell behind for the first time in the playoffs when Houston pushed an unearned run across in the second.

Burke, who had an 18th-inning homer to clinch an opening-round victory over Atlanta and a pinch-hit homer in Game 1 against St. Louis, got the start in this one and kept up his hot streak. He tripled to the gap in the second, barely beating Mark Grudzielanek’s relay throw. Mulder retired Everett on a grounder back to the mound, then walked Brad Ausmus intentionally to get to Oswalt.

The weak-hitting Oswalt, he batted just .178 during the season, took a couple of balls. The favorable count prompted Ausmus to take off for second on an attempted steal, which appeared to distract catcher Yadier Molina. He let an inside fastball deflect off his glove for a passed ball, and Burke trotted home with the first run of the game.

In its first four postseason games, St. Louis outscored San Diego and Houston 16-0 through the first four innings.

The Astros made it 2-0 in the fifth. Ausmus doubled to the wall, Oswalt got down a sacrifice bunt and Biggio hit a grounder to short with the infield back to drive in the run.

The Cardinals put two runners on against Oswalt in the first to bring up Sanders, whose two-run homer sparked a 5-3 victory in the opener. This time, he ended the threat by grounding out to third.

Edmonds atoned a bit for his offensive shortcomings with a brilliant defensive play in the sixth.

After Berkman led off with a single, Ensberg hit a long drive that appeared certain to bring home a run. But, at the last second, Edmonds stretched out to make the backhanded catch, belly-flopping onto the warning track but holding on. When he got up, the front of his jersey was covered in dirt.

Mulder pitched good enough to win, giving up eight hits and one earned run in seven inning.

While it wasn’t as controversial as the call that helped Chicago win Game 2 of the ALCS, home plate umpire Greg Gibson got one wrong in the second. He ruled St. Louis’ Grudzielanek grounded out on a dribbler to the mound, but television replays clearly showed the ball went off the hitter’s foot and should have been called a foul ball.

Grudzielanek and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa briefly argued the call, but Gibson stood by it and didn’t ask for help from any of the umpires in the field who might have had a better view.

Notes: Hall of Famer and former Cardinals SS Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Friday is the 20th anniversary of Smith’s memorable home run off Tom Niedenfuer to win Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers. … After Sanders went down, So Taguchi took over in LF.

AP-ES-10-13-05 2339EDT

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