ST. LOUIS (AP)—Nine starts into the season, Shawn Chacon had no wins or losses. Suddenly, he’s on a roll.
Chacon won his second straight start after nine no-decisions to open the year and Hunter Pence had a career-best five hits in the Houston Astros’ 8-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.
“He’s pitched well for the most part all year,” manager Cecil Cooper said. “He just had one, I thought, shaky outing about three starts ago but other than that he’s kept us in every ballgame and given us a chance.”
Chacon (2-0) worked seven strong innings, helping the Astros win for the fifth time in seven games in the opener of a nine-game trip. Chacon, perhaps the team’s most consistent starter so far with a 3.95 ERA and eight quality starts, broke a major league record set in 1965 for consecutive no-decisions to open the season before beating the Cubs also with seven strong innings on May 21.
The Astros are 6-5 in Chacon’s starts. The right-hander insisted the drought had not bothered him.
“Not at all. We were playing good baseball the majority of the games I pitched in and we won, I think, more than we lost,” he said. “In the big picture, that’s all that matters.”
Pence was 5-for-5 with four singles and a double, including an RBI infield hit in a four-run first off Braden Looper (6-4) and an RBI single in the third. He has four career four-hit games, one against the Cardinals that he claims not to remember.
“Once it’s over with I try to move on to the next day,” Pence said. “Today was just one of those days where the ball found holes. I hit some ground balls right where they weren’t standing, and sometimes you’re going to have a game like I had.”
Miguel Tejada hit a two-run homer, Kaz Matsui had three hits and Lance Berkman walked twice, singled and scored three times to give him a for a major-league best 56 runs. Berkman set a franchise record with 30 runs this month, breaking the previous mark of 27 by Jimmy Wynn in 1969.
Albert Pujols was 4-for-4 with his 12th homer and pinch hitter Brian Barton hit the first of his career for the Cardinals, who opened a seven-game homestand with a dud. Pujols is 12-for-24 with four homers and seven RBIs this year against Houston.
The long balls were the only damage against Chacon, who allowed two runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. Chacon walked 10 batters in 13 innings his first two starts against St. Louis this season, a 5-3 loss on April 8 and a 3-2 victory on April 25.
“I think they were probably expecting me to do something like that again,” Chacon said. “I noticed they took a lot of fastballs and maybe that might be a case of them expecting to be not around the zone.”
He also earned his first career decision against St. Louis in 13 games, including six starts.
Looper lasted only 4 1-3 innings and gave up eight runs, seven earned, on nine hits against the same team he blanked for seven innings of two-hit ball on April 25. Looper, who entered the game 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA against Houston, was in trouble from the get-go with five of the first batters reaching safely in a four-run first.
“I didn’t give us a chance from the beginning,” Looper said. “Guys hadn’t even had a chance to hit yet and it’s 4-0, so it’s frustrating.”
Shaky defense didn’t help in the first, with center fielder Rick Ankiel making an ill-advised throw to third on speedy Michael Bourn trying for third on a flyout, then airmailing one high off the screen behind the backstop trying to throw out a runner at the plate on Carlos Lee’s two-run single. Ankiel was charged with an error on the second throw.
Manager Tony La Russa said Ankiel’s strong no-hop throw to third would have caught any runner besides Bourn, who leads the major leagues with 23 steals. On the second, throw, La Russa said the ball just got away.
“He’s been aggressive, we like his aggressiveness,” La Russa said. “It’s something that makes no sense when you call him on it.”
Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo also had a tough night, sending Ankiel into an easy tag play at the plate in the fourth on Troy Glaus’ line-drive one-hop single to Pence in right field.
“I think Pence is a very good-looking player but throwing is not his biggest asset,” La Russa said. “It was a good time to push and he made a great throw.”
The Cardinals’ Yadier Molina is the second-hardest batter to strike out, with only nine in 157 at-bats, but fanned three times in four trips after taking a called third strike to end the second. … The Astros have scored 45 runs in the first inning, by far their best and the third-best total in the majors before their four-run start. … Pence has 21 RBIs in 23 games this month. … Tejada has an 11-game hitting streak and leads major league shortstops with 37 RBIs. … Adam Kennedy struck out three times in four at-bats and is in a 1-for-17 slump. … The Astros designated RHP Dave Borkowski, 0-2 with a 6.86 ERA, for assignment to make room for Wandy Rodriguez, who’ll be activated from the DL and start on Wednesday.