HOUSTON - This was an evening where the St. Louis Cardinals showcased their vast offensive potential. That such a display came on the heels of a quiet weekend up the road in Arlington was immaterial.
The Cardinals followed their breakthrough seven-run fourth inning with a trio of two-run home runs and slugged their way to a 13-5 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Allen Craig bashed their 18th, fifth and seventh home runs, respectively, in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings off three different Houston pitchers: left-handers Dallas Keuchel and Travis Blackley, and right-hander Josh Fields. That onslaught stemmed the tide of the Astros' four-run sixth that cut their deficit to five runs.
St. Louis tallied just seven runs while suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers over the weekend. These improved results against the Astros weren't indicative of any drastic changes.
"It's pretty hard to make too much out of a weekend when you look at a whole season and what our offense has been able to do," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I hope the guys didn't read into that anything at all because that's not a fair statement. Our offense has been very consistent and had a very good idea of what they want to do.
"Good all the way around: guys in scoring position, driving the ball, taking walks, cutting down on strikeouts. You're going to have tough weekends because there are good teams out there and very good pitchers and sometimes it's just hard to pull it off. Our guys went out (against Houston) and kind of did the same thing that they usually do."
The ample run support enabled right-hander Jake Westbrook (4-2) to depart after tossing 84 pitches over six innings. The Cardinals (48-29) snapped a three-game skid in the fourth game of their 11-game stretch of interleague contests. Houston (29-49) fell to 7-7 in interleague play.
Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell endured his fourth miserable home start of the season, coming undone in a fourth inning he failed to escape.
Incidentally, Harrell (5-8) was at his best in the third inning, retiring Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina on called third strikes for a perfect frame. But Beltran opened the fourth with a double, the first of four consecutive batters to reach against Harrell.
Craig followed with an RBI single before Harrell encountered his bugaboo: free passes. He walked three of the next four batters, including Jon Jay with the bases loaded to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead. Kozma followed with a run-scoring single before Carpenter added a three-run triple that cleared the bases and boosted the Cardinals' lead to 6-0.
"I think we made some good adjustments on him," Craig said of Harrell. "He's a good pitcher; he's got some good stuff. He runs that sinker in on the righties and I think we did a good job of getting him on the plate and making him throw it over the plate. We just didn't miss many of the balls that were strikes. We did a good job that inning."
Molina then chased Harrell with an RBI single. Harrell surrendered seven runs on seven hits and four walks with five strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings. All four of the appearances in which Harrell has allowed at least six earned runs this season have come at Minute Maid Park.
"I threw a lot of strikes," Harrell said. "In the fourth inning I threw a lot of pitches that could have gone either way. In the first couple of innings they went my way; in the fourth they didn't."
Westbrook carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez opened that frame with a home run, his 11th, and Brett Wallace added a two-run triple. Jason Castro followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Wallace and pulled Houston to within 9-4.
"I got into a hitter's count and I knew he was going to come with either a fastball or a sinker," Dominguez said. "It got up in the zone, and I put a good swing on it.
"He was pitching well. I was just trying to go up there, get a good count, get a good pitch and just hit it hard somewhere."
NOTES: Cardinals designated hitter Matt Holliday was inserted into the fifth spot in the batting order for the first time this season. Holliday hit third in his previous 70 starts, with Matheny making the change hoping to snap Holliday from his 0-for-11 slump. Holliday singled in his first at-bat. ... Following his recall from Triple-A Oklahoma City, Wallace was installed as the designated hitter for the first time this season. Wallace made six starts at first base and one at third prior to his demotion on April 18.