Astros 5, Cardinals 1

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—The Houston Astros know they are a long shot to make the playoffs. At least, the defending NL champions enjoyed the end of their road trip.

Roy Oswalt pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning and Lance Berkman hit his 40th home run, helping the Astros bounce back from a dispiriting loss to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1 Wednesday in the finale of a nine-game swing.

“I hope it carries over and gives us a little momentum going back home,” manager Phil Garner said after the Astros concluded the trip 4-5. “We need to re-establish ourselves.”

The Astros ended a three-game losing streak and averted a three-game sweep against a team they’re chasing in the NL Central. On Tuesday, Albert Pujols hit a two-run double with two outs in the ninth off Brad Lidge for a 6-5 victory.

Chris Burke, starting at second base for the second straight game in place of slumping Craig Biggio, had two hits and two RBIs. Still, Houston was six games behind the Cardinals in the Central and 4 1/2 games back in the wild card standings with only 17 games left.

“We’re so far behind that we have to win every series for sure,” Oswalt said. “Then we’ll just see what it ends up.”

Garner said he hasn’t attempted to calculate what it would take to extend what has been a frustrating season for the Astros (71-74).

“We’re not even at .500,” he said. “We can’t even start to play those kind of games yet.”

The Cardinals got only two runners into scoring position before the ninth against Oswalt (13-8), who gave up one run and seven hits in 8 1-3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.

With one out in the ninth, the Cardinals hit three consecutive singles off Oswalt for their lone run. Trever Miller relieved and got one out. Dan Wheeler earned his fifth save in seven chances by striking out pinch-hitter Preston Wilson.

Oswalt is 4-0 in his last five starts, matching his season-best, four-game winning streak, and has won five straight September decisions dating to last season. Working with a big lead, he was able to challenge the hitters.

“I didn’t have my best fastball, but I was able to spot it,” Oswalt said. “You get to go after guys. They were swinging at some early pitches, so I was able to get deep into the ballgame.”

Jason Marquis (14-15) pitched on three days’ rest for the eighth time in his career and lasted only 10 batters. The Astros batted around in a four-run first, including a bases-loaded walk to Luke Scott, a two-run single by Burke and an RBI single by Eric Bruntlett.

“I felt fine, I warmed up fine,” Marquis said. “It just didn’t translate and carry over to the game.”

Berkman was 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series with five strikeouts before going 3-for-4 with a walk in the finale. He was a triple shy of the cycle, and his homer off Josh Hancock in the sixth gave the Astros a 5-0 lead.

Marquis was pulled after yielding a leadoff hit to Willy Taveras in the second after laboring for 52 pitches. The Cardinals have totaled one run in his last three starts, although Marquis was much better in the previous two outings.

Marquis exited with a 5.82 ERA. Only two pitchers since 1900 have finished with higher ERAs and won 14 or more games—Wes Ferrell (15-10, 6.28) in 1938 for the Senators and Yankees, and Guy Bush (15-10, 6.20) in 1930 for the Cubs.

“Physically, obviously, I feel fine,” Marquis said. “Mechanically, I’ve got some problems. I’ve been battling mechanical problems all year.”

By the time Marquis had thrown 13 pitches, the Astros had the bases loaded with none out in the first on singles by Taveras and Morgan Ensberg and a walk to Berkman. Scott walked on five pitches to force in a run, Burke followed with a two-run single, and Bruntlett hit an RBI single.


The Cardinals fell to a major league best 35-18 in day games. … Marquis is 7-4 against Houston. He’s beaten the Astros more than any other team. … Oswalt’s 49-16 career record after the All-Star break leads active pitchers. … Berkman is two homers shy of his career best of 42 in 2002. … The Astros left 14 runners on base. … A sellout crowd of 40,359 pushed the Cardinals above 3 million for the 10th in franchise history and eighth time in nine years. This is their first year at the new Busch Stadium.

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