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Edmonds a handful for Astros

Edmonds a handful for Astros

HOUSTON -- The mere mention of his name over the public address system at Minute Maid Park evokes a groan from Astros fans.

Jim Edmonds.

Since 2000, no single player has done more to undermine Houston's fortunes than the St. Louis center fielder. Hitters like Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee have done their damage against the Astros, but no one has had the steady run of excellence offensively and defensively against Houston that Edmonds has sustained the last six years.

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Whether it's been regular season (Edmonds entered the season with a .328 career average against Houston) or the postseason (what Astros fan doesn't remember Edmonds robbing Brad Ausmus of what might have been at least an RBI double in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series last year?), Edmonds ranks right up there with humidity and mosquitoes on the list of Houstonians' biggest summer headaches.

Not counting the postseason, Edmonds is a career .311 hitter with 55 hits and 177 at-bats in Minute Maid Park. Until this year, he held the highest batting average by an opponent at Minute Maid Park among opposing hitters with at least 100 at-bats. Though he tailed off slightly this season and hit -- for him -- an uncharacteristic .263 with 29 homers and 89 RBIs, the Astros still view the 35-year-old slugger, along with Pujols, as big keys to the series.

The Cardinals lineup is loaded with weapons, but the Astros hope to try to minimize the damage by Edmonds and Pujols, with the thinking being as long as they can face the two Cardinals bombers with the bases empty, there's a better chance of keeping the game close until it's time for Brad "Lights Out" Lidge.

"He's certainly had a lot of big games [and] big at-bats against us," Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt said of Edmonds. "And he also can beat you with his glove. He and Pujols are two guys that cause a lot of teams problems, us included."

For six years, the Astros have studied films and wracked their brains trying to find a way to pitch to Edmonds and Pujols, and obviously, no definitive answers have been found. Not that they would share such knowledge.

The left-handed hitting Edmonds batting second in front of the right-handed Pujols is the cornerstone of the Cardinals lineup. In the past, the Astros have tried various strategies against the two, but nothing has worked. Pitching around them creates other problems, in that it gives more opportunities to guys like Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker, not exactly attractive Plan B options if you're on the mound.

More often than not, the Astros have pitched carefully, if not around Edmonds and Pujols. More often than not, one or both have made them pay dearly.

The first two games of this series have been the exception.

With his solo homer in Game 2, Pujols is hitting .286 (2-for-7) with a homer and two RBIs. Pujols has hit the ball hard but has little to show for it. And Edmonds, believe it or not, is hitting just .143 with no extra-base hits or RBIs.

The Astros do not expect their good fortune to last, especially with regards to their longtime nemesis Edmonds.

"He always seems to do well against us," Lidge said. "There's no way you hold him down for very long. He's a great hitter with a lot of power and he has great coverage of the [strike] zone."

Edmonds' slow start in the NLCS is even more surprising considering he hit .318 the final five weeks of the regular season and .295 against San Diego in the National League Division Series.

Of course, Andy Pettitte was the Astros' starter in the opener, the one Houston pitcher who has had success against Edmonds when healthy. Like the rest of the Cardinals lineup, Edmonds had no answer for Oswalt in Game 2, as he managed just a single and two strikeouts in a 1-for-4 night.

Edmonds will get another chance to get going Saturday afternoon in Game 3 at Minute Maid Park. When asked about his success in this park recently, Edmonds didn't have any explanation other than to say he sees the ball well here.

He declined an interview request before Friday afternoon's workout. Maybe he intends to let his bat do the talking.

The Astros and their fans have heard that all too often.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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