HOUSTON -- The Cardinals needed a stellar performance from their starting pitcher in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night.
They got it from Woody Williams, the Houston native, who went toe-to-toe and calf-to-calf with the Astros' Brandon Backe, in an epic playoff battle of right-handers who matched zeroes and one-hitters for seven innings.
Backe pitched one more inning, tossing eight shutout frames of one-hit ball.
"I haven't had time to step back and see everything," Williams said in his best Texas twang after the Cards lost, 3-0. "I just know I put up seven zeroes and got outmatched."
Williams said he strained his left calf running to cover first base as Lance Berkman grounded out to Albert Pujols, ending the first inning.
"We didn't know if he could pitch from inning to inning," La Russa said. "He ends up giving us seven. You're not supposed to use the word 'hero' in sports, but that was an heroic performance with his calf bothering him the way it was."
Despite the effort, the Cardinals return to Busch Stadium for Game 6 on Wednesday night, trailing the best-of-seven game series, 3-2, after winning the opening two games at home.
"It's tough to swallow," Williams said. "But we still get to go back to St. Louis. So far, the home team has won every game. And if that's stays true, we're still in good shape."
Williams was long in the clubhouse by the time Jeff Kent ended the festivities with a three-run homer in the ninth inning that caromed off the cement above the left-field seats at Minute Maid Park.
Fewest hits, both teams combined, in an LCS:
Oct. 18, 2004
HOU 3, STL 0
Oct. 8, 1974
OAK 1, BAL 0
Oct. 9, 1974
OAK 2, BAL 1
Oct. 5, 1984
DET 1, KC 0
Oct. 14, 2000
NYY 5, SEA 0
Oct. 21, 2001
NYY 3, SEA 1
Oct. 12, 1986
HOU 3, NYM 1
La Russa finally lifted Williams for pinch-hitter John Mabry with two outs and no one on base in the eighth inning, his line a brilliant seven innings, one hit, no runs, two walks and four strikeouts. Mabry went down swinging.
The Astros' only hit off Williams was a broken-bat single by Jeff Bagwell with two outs in the first inning. Houston didn't have another hit until Carlos Beltran opened the ninth with a single to right off closer Jason Isringhausen.
Williams had only thrown 94 pitches at that point, 53 for strikes. He wasn't tiring and probably could have continued on in the game. The mild leg injury wasn't a real factor, Williams said, although he was limping noticeably in the clubhouse after the game.
"I know the pitch count really wasn't way up there," Williams said. "At the same time, I know [La Russa[ had to pinch-hit for me in that type of game with a guy who has some power. I don't second-guess him at all. He made the right call and put our best [reliever] in the game."
Williams was the winner in the Cards' 10-7, Game 1 victory, pitching six innings of four-hit, four-run ball. He prevailed in that one, although he allowed a pair of two-run homers -- to Beltran and Kent.
Woody Williams / P
Weight: 200 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Going into Monday night's game, the four Cardinals starters combined to allow 13 runs and 20 hits in 21 innings. Jason Marquis couldn't make it out of the fifth inning on Sunday as the Cards lost to the Astros, 6-5, in Game 4.
So St. Louis desperately needed a gem from Williams, who had been looking forward to pitching in the playoffs for the first time in his hometown. He distributed about 50 tickets for the game to family and friends and said he was sure there were no divided loyalties. The usual group of Astros fans in his family were simply Williams fans on Monday night.
"I just thought it was a great game," Williams said. "Somebody had to lose. Nobody was giving in at all. It was just a well-played ballgame throughout, a fun game, a game I was looking forward to because it was at home. It was just a shame we came up short."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.