Rookie Jeroime Robertson is already proving he can handle pennant race pressure.
Despite a 3-2 loss to St. Louis in 12 innings on Saturday, the Astros retained their 1 1/2 -game lead in the NL Central over the Chicago Cubs, who lost to Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals are five games back with six remaining.
Robertson is 3-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts in September, holding opponents to five runs in 18 innings. In his last start, a 14-4 win over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday, the 26-year-old left-hander set the Astros’ rookie record with his 15th win.
“Fifteen is pretty darn good. I don’t care what league you’re pitching in,” manager Jimy Williams said. “To set a record, you tip your cap to the kid because early in the year he was sent down (to Triple-A) for a short period of time. He’s done an outstanding job since he’s been back.”
Against Colorado, Robertson allowed two runs, six hits in seven innings.
“He battles every day,” Astros shortstop Adam Everett said. “He’s the same guy whether he’s pitching bad or pitching good.
Albert Pujols hit his 43rd homer in the 13th inning Saturday and Fernando Vina had three hits, as the Cardinals snapped a five-game losing streak against the Astros. They lost the previous four by a combined score of 28-7.
Although there’s little chance of catching the Astros, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said his team refuses to give in.
“We know what the magic number is,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We take pride in being competitors.”
Pujols has 114 career homers, tied with Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (1946-48) for the most in a player’s first three seasons.
“You’re talking about records that were sitting there for a long time,” Pujols said. “It’s a blast. I didn’t try to hit the ball out of the park, I just tried to put a good swing on it, and look what happens.”
STANDINGS: Astros - 1st place, NL Central. Cardinals - 3rd place, 5 GB, NL Central.
ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Robertson (15-7, 4.85 ERA). In two starts against the Cardinals, Robertson is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Sterling Hitchcock (3-1, 3.58 ERA). In a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday, the left-hander allowed four runs, three hits and five walks in 5 1-3 innings. In four career starts against the Astros, Hitchcock is 2-2 with a 6.64 ERA.
SEASON SERIES: Astros, 11-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Astros - LHP Robertson is making his fourth straight road start. … 2B Jeff Kent is 2-for-13 (.154) against LHP Hitchcock with six strikeouts. … Houston is 2-3 on a nine-game road trip. The Astros will begin a three-game series with NL West-leading San Francisco on Monday. Cardinals - 1B Tino Martinez is 3-for-25 (.120) in his last seven games. … Sunday is the Cardinals last home game of the season. They’ll play two in Milwaukee before finishing the year in Arizona. .. The Cardinals have scored just 10 runs in their last five games with the Astros.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Astros - 39-41 on the road; Cardinals - 47-33 at home.
INJURIES: Astros - LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 60-day DL. 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.