After dropping the first two games of their series with the Astros -- while the Reds roughed up the Pirates -- the sense hung heavily in the air that the Cardinals could be on the brink of a downward spiral.
Fortunately, they roughed up Houston starter J.A. Happ early and the Redbirds were able to cruise to a relatively easy victory to get back on an even keel before their Thursday day off. The Cardinals scored seven runs in an inning plus against Happ, the centerpiece of the Astros' haul from the Roy Oswalt trade, and held on to win 8-4.
Happ, who was very good in his first Houston start, couldn't get the ball down Wednesday. And the St. Louis hitters punished him for it.
Felipe Lopez walked to lead off the bottom of the first and -- after Colby Rasmus struck out -- Albert Pujols stroked a ground rule double to left. Matt Holliday singled in Lopez and Pujols went to third. Allen Craig then singled to left to drive Pujols home. Yadier Molina pulled a ball to left to score Matt Holliday, then starting pitcher Chris Carpenter helped himself with a single up the middle to drive home Craig. After one inning, the Cardinals led 4-0.
Albert Pujols tosses his bat aside after hitting his 27th homer of the season in the second inning Wednesday against the Astros. AP photo.
Carpenter walked former Cardinals farmhand Brett Wallace in the second and then gave up a homer to Houston third baseman Chris Johnson to cut the lead to 4-2. But it was the only damage the 'Stros could do to Carpenter. He went on to pitch 7 1/3 innings with four hits and two earned runs allowed to earn his 12th victory of the season.
In the bottom of the second, Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer to break the game open. Pujols was 3-for-5 on the night with two runs scored and three RBIs. He drove his batting average, which a few days ago was below .300, to .305 for the season.
The Astros scored a couple of cosmetic runs in the ninth as Ryan Franklin tuned up. But they never really threatened again.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Carpenter.
Cardinals Play of the Game: Matt Holliday made a nice catch up against the left field wall in the bottom of the seventh to keep the Astros from getting back into the game.
Lowlight: Franklin allowed three his and two runs in one inning pitched, his first since July 31.