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St. Louis keeps rolling as closer Mujica earns another save

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Edward Mujica's been the hardest-working man in town lately.

The St. Louis Cardinals' closer was back out there Wednesday night, pitching in his sixth straight game after his team rallied late for a lead against the Houston Astros.

Despite an error which gave Houston a golden chance, Mujica got the job done, inducing a game-ending double play from pinch-hitter Carlos Pena as St. Louis swept a two-game series with a 5-4 decision at sold-out Busch Stadium.

After pitching Thursday through Sunday, Mujica and the Cardinals had Monday off. Mujica pitched the last out of Tuesday night's 9-5 win over Houston. He stopped by manager Mike Matheny's office for a chat after arriving at the ballpark Wednesday.

"He asked how I was feeling and I said, 'Good.' He said, 'You have the save situation,'" Mujica said.

In recording his 25th save in 26 chances, Mujica whiffed Chris Carter to start the ninth. Brett Wallace stroked his fourth single of the night and J.D. Martinez reached when third baseman Daniel Descalso booted a potential double-play ball.

At that point, Matheny strolled to the mound.

"I told him to throw another double-play ball and we'll turn it for you," Matheny said.

Which Mujica did, getting Pena to pound an 0-1 offering at second baseman Matt Carpenter. Shortstop Pete Kozma made the turn and threw Pena out at first as the Cardinals (55-34) won their fifth straight game and swept a homestand for the first time this year.

Mujica said the most consecutive games he'd pitched in prior to this season was four.

"I feel OK," he said. "I just try to keep myself ready for situations like that."

The latest act in Mujica's iron-man routine made a winner of Seth Maness (5-1), who picked up the decision despite yielding Wallace's RBI single in the seventh that gave the Astros (32-59) a brief 4-3 lead.

Carpenter erased it with one swing, jumping on a meaty 2-1 fastball from reliever Wesley Wright (0-3) and launching it into the right-field seats with Tony Cruz aboard. It was Carpenter's ninth homer of the season.

A first-time All-Star, Carpenter derived inspiration from Houston manager Bo Porter bringing on a lefthander to face him.

"I take it personally every time someone does that," he said. "I try to have the same approach against them. I'm looking for something out over the plate, which plays into most lefties' approach against you."

St. Louis won despite being outhit 10-7, issuing six walks and making the game's only two errors. But Houston went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position and stranded a dozen men, four at third base.

Houston grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Carter lined a first-pitch homer over the right-field wall, his 18th of the year. An error by Carpenter on Matt Dominguez's grounder up the middle allowed Wallace to score the other run.

St. Louis got a run back in its half of the second when Matt Adams grounded a single to left-center, plating Allen Craig from second.

The Astros made it 3-1 in the fifth when Martinez produced a two-out RBI single to left-center.

Cardinals starter Shelby Miller left after five innings and 94 pitches, having allowed five hits, three runs and five walks in an uneven outing. It was the most free passes this year for Miller, who fanned five.

"I had nothing going," Miller said. "I tried my best with what I had to keep the team in the game. It's amazing what these guys can do offensively and they picked me up."

Houston starter Jordan Lyles gave up four runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, picking up 13 outs via grounders. But he plunked Cruz with the first pitch of the seventh, setting the stage for Carpenter.

NOTES: St. Louis RHP Chris Carpenter (right shoulder) threw more than 100 pitches Wednesday in a simulated game, and the team feels he's ready to face live hitters. He's scheduled to make his first rehab start Monday night for Double-A Springfield. ... After Wednesday night's game, the Cardinals won't see Houston again until at least 2016. The teams were longtime rivals in the NL Central before realignment sent the Astros to the American League after last season. ... Houston fell to 8-9 in interleague games, giving it a chance for its first winning mark against the other league since 2004. The Astros' final interleague games are at home against Cincinnati in mid-September.
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