HOUSTON (AP)—For Chris Carpenter, it was another routine outing. Only this one got the St. Louis ace a “big” number and an unusual postgame hug from his pitching coach.
Carpenter became baseball’s first 20-game winner this season with a complete game in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory over the Houston Astros, winning a marquee matchup of NL Cy Young Award candidates Saturday night.
“Everybody was excited for me. Like I said, 20’s a big number,” Carpenter said. “But I’ve got five (starts) left. I think about the rest of the season, and get prepared for New York on Thursday.”
Houston’s Roger Clemens left after five innings because of a strained left hamstring and didn’t get a decision.
Carpenter (20-4) struck out eight and allowed eight hits while throwing 120 pitches in his major league-leading seventh complete game, the 20th of his career. The right-hander won his 12th straight decision over 15 starts, while also winning his 10th straight road game—the first NL pitcher to accomplish that since Bob Gibson won 12 in a row in 1970.
“It’s just amazing how often he does that,” manager Tony La Russa said. “I can’t remember seeing a pitcher in all the years I’ve managed that’s been so good every time out there.”
Clemens, who last year at age 42 won his record seventh Cy Young Award, said he tweaked his hamstring during his at-bat in the second inning, when he struck out while trying to bunt. The Astros said he is day-to-day, and Clemens said he hoped to make his next scheduled start Friday at Milwaukee.
“I tried to stay in there. We wrapped it and tried to keep it from getting worse. I threw everything trying to stay in there,” he said. “I felt great when the game started, but once I got injured, I just wanted to eat up some innings.”
There was an audible, collective groan heard in the stadium from the sold-out crowd of 42,817 when pinch-hitter Chris Burke was introduced to bat for Clemens in the bottom of the fifth.
Clemens leads the major leagues with a 1.52 ERA, but his record is just 11-6. Houston has been shut out eight times in games Clemens started, including five 1-0 games.
The Astros trailed 2-1 when Clemens left, but Lance Berkman’s leadoff homer in the sixth took him off the hook.
Carpenter allowed four extra-base hits, but still won his fourth game this season against Houston, which has managed just three runs off him in 33 innings.
“He’s done a great job against us,” Willy Taveras said. “He throws a lot of strikes. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s been any tougher on us.”
St. Louis got the go-ahead run in the seventh when Mark Grudzielanek had an RBI double. That scored Abraham Nunez, who had a leadoff single off Russ Springer (4-4) and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Carpenter.
Molina added his second RBI single in the eighth, making it 4-2.
So Taguchi then hit a slow roller to third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who bounced the throw home for an error when he tried unsuccessfully to get Pujols. Molina then drove in another run with his dribbler to make it 2-1.
The Astros scored just once during an early stretch against Carpenter when they had four hits in five batters, including three doubles.
Craig Biggio had a one-out single in the first, and after Ensberg struck out, Berkman doubled into the right-field corner. Biggio was thrown out trying to score after Walker got the ball in quickly to Grudzielanek, who threw a strike to catcher Molina.
“That’s a big turn in that game. Give Roger a 1-0 lead in the first. To him, it probably feels like he’s got nine,” Carpenter said.
“To limit it like that, that’s about as good an example as you’re going to find about what a tough competitor he is and how he maintains his concentration,” La Russa said.
Mike Lamb and Luke Scott had consecutive doubles to start the second. After Adam Everett’s bloop single, Brad Ausmus tried a squeeze bunt that rolled foul. On the next pitch, he hit a grounder back to Carpenter, who trapped Scott in a rundown for an out.
“We had a chance to break through in the first couple of innings, then he settled down,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “You’ve got to get to him early, before he gets in a groove. That’s what happened to us. He got in a groove.”
Houston had a four-game winning streak snapped. … The series finale Sunday will end the Cardinals’ season-long 13-game road trip through four cities. St. Louis is 8-4 so far on the trip, and is the only NL team with a winning road record (45-25).