Cardinals 3, Astros 2, 13 innings

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—With one big swing, Albert Pujols reached another milestone and kept the St. Louis Cardinals’ faint playoff hopes alive.

Pujols homered in the 13th inning, his second game-winning shot of the year, for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday. He 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.”

The Astros lead the NL Central by 1 1/2 games over the Chicago Cubs, who lost 8-2 at Pittsburgh, and five over the Cardinals. St. Louis has six games to go, including the series finale against Houston on Sunday.

“We know what the magic number is,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We take pride in being competitors.”

Astros manager Jimy Williams didn’t know what to say.

“I think you’re just going to have to write what you saw because it was really a heck of a game,” Williams told reporters. “You’re going to have to write this story on your own.”

Fernando Vina had three hits and a walk for the Cardinals, who snapped a five-game losing streak against the Astros. They had lost the previous four by a combined score of 28-7.

Jason Simontacchi (9-5) allowed two walks and struck out one in two innings.

The Cardinals left eight runners on base in extra innings—four reached on intentional walks. The Astros went to a five-man infield with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th and Joe Girardi grounded out to center fielder Craig Biggio, playing on the grass in front of second base.

Biggio threw home for the force.

“You have to roll the dice,” Biggio said. “Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s no right way or wrong way, you play the hand out and see what happens.”

Pujols ended it with his 43rd homer, lining an 0-1 pitch from Dan Miceli (1-3) over the left-field wall with one out in the 13th. Pujols beat the Padres with a two-run shot in the 11th inning on July 12.

He leads the majors with a .364 average, and earlier this year became the first player in major league history to get 30 homers, 100 RBIs and score 100 runs in his first three seasons.

“A guy like Albert, he’s eventually going to get you,” Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. “We were lucky he hadn’t hurt us up to that point.”

Even though the Cardinals are virtually out of the race, Pujols was just as elated as he was after his game-ending drive in July.

“You’re talking about the game-winning RBI,” Pujols said. “The fans, that’s why they come, they want you to win.

“After they’ve been sitting there for a while, I think it was pretty special for them.”

Astros starter Tim Redding lasted five innings, giving up one run on four hits. He was 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA in five starts against the Cardinals this year, and beat St. Louis in his last start.

Brett Tomko allowed two runs in six innings for the Cardinals, continuing a late-season surge. His overall ERA is 5.19, but in his last three starts he has a 2.35 ERA.

The Astros took the lead in the third on Jeff Kent’s two-run single, one of four hits in the inning. Tomko escaped further damage when he struck out Ausmus with the bases loaded for the final out.

Tomko reached on a third-strike wild pitch to start the bottom of the third and scored on J.D. Drew’s two-out single.

The Cardinals tied it in the sixth. Edgar Renteria doubled with one out and scored when pinch-hitter Eduardo Perez’s two-out grounder up the middle rolledbetween Kent’s legs at second base for an error.


St. Louis’ Scott Rolen stranded seven runners his first three-bats. His last day off was July 6. … Astros 3B Geoff Blum made two nice defensive stops in the first inning, snaring Eli Marrero’s liner and Pujols’ smash. … Orlando Merced singled in his 65th pinch-hit at-bat in the seventh, tying a club record set by Ken Boswell in 1976 and tied by Dave Clark in 1998. Merced is 13-for-65(.200) in that role with one homer and eight RBIs.

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