The Cardinals hung on to a 5-4 win over the Astros by the narrowest of margins Thursday to sweep Houston and -- at least temporarily -- extend their lead over the Dodgers, Brewers and Pirates for the second National League wildcard.
Houston loaded the bases with one out down by a run in the top of the eighth when Marc Rzepczynski pulled his world famous walk the only guy he faces routine in relief of an ineffective Mitchell Boggs. But Fernando Salas came in out of the bullpen and notched two huge strikeouts to end the threat.
Jason Motte then entered the game in the ninth and, after allowing an excuse me single up the middle, struck out the side to notch his NL leading 36th save of the season.
Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia started off terribly, loading the bases in the first inning before walking in a run to give Houston a 1-0 lead. But Allen Craig hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the inning to put St. Louis ahead. Garcia gave it back in the third when he allowed a pair of doubles off the left centerfield wall and a single that tied the game at three.
The Cardinals regained the lead in the sixth when Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma walked to bring up the pitcher's spot in the batting order. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny snookered the Astros by putting Skip Schumaker in the on deck circle but then pulling him back after Houston brought in a lefty reliever. Carlos Beltran came in off the bench and smacked a two-run double to the left centerfield gap to put the Redbirds ahead 5-3.
Houston scored a run in the seventh. But bullpenner Edward Mujica coaxed a double play with runners on first and third to keep St. Louis ahead.
Former Cardinals killer Bud Morris was tagged with the loss to fall to 5-13 while Garcia, who has been terrible in his career against the Astros, got the win to improve to 5-7.
Cardinals Star of the game: Salas.
Cardinals Play of the Game: Beltran's two-run double.
Lowlight: The Cardinals continued their strikeout binge with nine more whiffs by St. Louis hitters on the day.