Tejada wins it with a walk-off

Tejada wins it with a walk-off

HOUSTON -- Several new Astros introduced themselves to the Houston fans in rather dramatic fashion during the home opener on Monday, but the most memorable "how do you do" moment belonged to Miguel Tejada.

The Houston shortstop erased a very bad beginning to the ninth inning with a two-run walk-off homer off Kyle McClellan, lifting the Astros to a 5-3 win over the visiting St. Louis Cardinals.

The game didn't need to be this exciting, and most of the sellout crowd of 43,483 would have probably preferred a run-of-the-mill ending, where the closer gets a boring old save and everyone goes home happy.

But Astros fans are used to drama in the ninth inning, and although the cast of characters has changed, for a while it looked like the same old story -- closer enters game with healthy lead, closer blows lead, game goes 15 innings because neither side can muster a clutch hit.

Except this time, the Astros didn't need extra innings. The new-and-improved Houston lineup stepped in, led by Tejada, who vindicated Jose Valverde with one swing.

"The walk-off homer is exciting," Tejada said. "I think it was more exciting because it was in front of the fans for the first day."

A few lockers away, Valverde sent a beaming smile in Tejada's direction.

"He's so good," Valverde said, adding with a laugh, "He's so good for me, too, you know what I mean?"

Valverde entered the game seeking his 100th career save, but those hopes were dashed in minutes. He put two runners on immediately, yielding a base hit to Aaron Miles and walking Cesar Izturis.

Valverde struck out Rick Ankiel, bringing the Astros' old nemesis, Albert Pujols, to the plate. Pujols lifted what at first glance appeared to be a relatively lazy fly ball to left, but the ball carried to the warning track in front of the out-of-town scoreboard in left, where Carlos Lee made a last-step grab. Two outs.

Troy Glaus snuck a base hit through the hole at third, scoring Izturis, and Ryan Ludwick dealt the final blow with a two-run double that bounced off the Astros' bullpen in right center. A relay play nearly nabbed Glaus at the plate, but J.R. Towles couldn't get a handle of the throw from Tejada and the runner was called safe.

Manager Cecil Cooper surmised that Valverde might have been "pumped up" a little bit -- maybe too much. Valverde, however, said he simply didn't have good control of his fastball.

"I threw [Glaus] two split-fingers for strikes," Valverde said. "The third pitch, I threw too hard. It was a mistake."

"I thought he rebounded when he got Ankiel," Cooper said. "I said, 'He'll be OK. He'll get out of this.' Then we've been working on Ludwick pretty much all night with breaking balls. We probably should have thrown him something offspeed there to begin with in the at-bat."

Asked what he learned from Valverde's performance, Cooper answered, "I'm going to go to Valverde every time in the ninth inning, if he's available. That's why he's here -- he's our closer. No ifs, ands or buts. I'll run him out every time. If he's available, he's our closer in the ninth inning."

Valverde's blown save negated a brilliant outing by Wandy Rodriguez, who was in line for his first win of the year after keeping the Cardinals scoreless over 7 1/3 innings.

"I think that was probably the best I've seen him," Cooper said. "Very, very efficient. Great curveball tonight. He attacked hitters with his fastball, hit his spots beautifully. That's the Wandy Rodriguez that I'm hoping shows up just about every time. I think he's got the ability to do that."

Through six, St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer was just as dominant as Rodriguez. The Astros managed three hits off the right-hander until the seventh, when Lance Berkman and Lee knocked back-to-back solo homers to break the scoreless tie.

Rodriguez retired nine straight from the fifth through the seventh innings. He coaxed a grounder from Chris Duncan in the eighth but gave up an infield single to Yadier Molina, prompting Cooper to summon right-hander Doug Brocail from the bullpen. The setup man induced an inning-ending double play from Skip Schumaker.

Towles knocked a solo homer off Kelvin Jimenez in the eighth, widening the gap for Valverde.

Rodriguez said he "felt pain" watching the ninth inning unfold. "But that happens," he added. "He was trying to do his job. It happens."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.