Houston’s 2-0 victory over the St. Louis preserved the Astros’ one-game advantage over the Chicago Cubs, who beat Cincinnati 9-6.
The Astros have won nine of 12 and are 12 games over .500 for the first time this season.
“We’re in first place and we weren’t even expecting to be here,” Houston closer Billy Wagner said. “There’s no pressure on us. We’re playing the best baseball we’ve played and we’re probably more relaxed than we’ve been all year.
“But as far as using the pressure word, that’s not something we’re thinking about.”
Perhaps the pressure is getting to St. Louis, which lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped 4 1/2 back.
Matt Morris did his best to try to help the Cardinals, turning in his fifth strong start in as many chances since coming off the disabled list last month. He gave up two runs on four hits in seven innings, and has a 1.29 ERA since returning from the DL. This was St. Louis’ first loss in those five starts.
“He pitched a winning game, but he didn’t win,” said manager Tony La Russa.
STANDINGS: Cardinals - 3rd place, 4 1/2 GB, NL Central. Astros - 1st place, NL Central.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Danny Haren (3-6, 4.83 ERA). The right-hander is winless in his last five starts, including an 8-1 loss to Colorado on Tuesday, in which he allowed four runs and three hits in just three innings. He is making his first start against Houston.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Tim Redding (8-14, 3.89 ERA). In his last start, Redding allowed five runs—three earned—and six hits over five innings of a 7-6 win at Montreal on Tuesday, but didn’t figure in the decision. He is winless in his last seven starts, and is seeking his first win since Aug. 1 against Florida. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.24 ERA in four career starts against the Cardinals.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cardinals - Albert Pujols, .364 avg., 41 HRs, 121 RBIs and 126 runs; Edgar Renteria, 32 SBs. Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .313 avg.; Jeff Bagwell, 33 HRs, 88 RBIs, 101 runs and 10 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Astros, 9-5.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - OF Pujols is 4-for-10 in his career against RHP Redding. … RHP Haren has given up six home runs in his last 25 innings. … 3B Scott Rolen is 3-for-11 in his career against RHP Redding. Astros - LHP Billy Wagner has made a career high 71 appearances and surpassed the 100 strikeouts for the third time in his career. … 1B Bagwell is tied with Chicago White Sox DH Frank Thomas for 33rd on the career list with 415 homers. … RHP Octavio Dotel pitched a perfect eighth on Saturday, his first appearance since straining his left gluteus Sept. 6.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 33-42 on the road; Astros - 44-29 at home.
INJURIES: Cardinals - C Steve Torrealba (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Journell (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Kiko Calero (knee), 60-day DL; RHP Chris Carpenter (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Gene Stechschulte (shoulder), 60-day DL. Astros - LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 60-day DL.