ST. LOUIS -- When the St. Louis Cardinals opted to make Matt Carpenter their everyday second baseman this spring, it was with the hope that his bat could offset what they feared would be below-average defense.
Not only has Carpenter proven capable in the field, but he's also provided far more than they could have expected offensively. He's been so good, in fact, that he's going to his first All-Star Game because of performances like the one he had Tuesday night.
Going 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs, Carpenter spearheaded a 15-hit attack that enabled St. Louis to dump the Houston Astros 9-5 at sold-out Busch Stadium.
Carpenter had a hand in five of the Cardinals' first six runs. He singled ahead of Matt Holliday's two-run homer in the first, then lofted a sacrifice fly to left field in the second. In the fourth, he bounced a two-run double past diving first baseman Carlos Pena, then scored on Carlos Beltran's RBI single that gave St. Louis a 6-0 advantage.
"It's always fun to have a night like that," Carpenter said. "If I can get on base in front of our big guys, our offense is going to have a pretty good chance to score runs. That's my job -- to get on base."
Carpenter has done that as well as any leadoff man in the majors, hitting .322 with a .393 on-base percentage, aided by 35 walks and six hit-by-pitches. For good measure, he's added eight homers and 40 RBIs while scoring a team-high 69 runs.
His effort was a big reason that St. Louis lit up Astros ace Bud Norris (6-8). Norris yielded 11 hits and seven runs over five innings in one of his worst outings this year.
"There was a lot going on out there," said Norris, who appeared to injure his left ankle in the second and third innings but stayed in the game. "I just tried to battle through it for the team."
While Norris struggled, Adam Wainwright once again used Houston as a foil for continued success. In improving to 13-1 in his career against Houston, Wainwright (12-5) yielded just one run, on J.D. Martinez's first-pitch RBI single in the sixth, and five hits.
Wainwright walked one and fanned nine, six on curves in the dirt that Houston hitters couldn't stop chasing.
"For whatever reason, I've seemed to match up well against them," Wainwright said of the Astros. "It's never easy against a major league squad, but I was able to stay out of trouble. All the hits were singles, except for (Brett) Wallace's double, and I was able to establish the curve early."
Allen Craig added three hits and two RBIs, giving him 71 for the season, while David Freese snapped an 0-for-11 streak with three straight singles. Daniel Descalso added a pair of doubles as the Cardinals scored in every inning but the third and seventh.
Manager Mike Matheny liked how St. Louis kept taking the extra base and making aggressive secondary leads pay off.
"Even after we had a pretty good lead, the guys were still going hard from first to third and hustling," he said. "That's just the discipline of this game. What it does is it gets their teammates an RBI when they otherwise might not have one."
It also turned out that the Cardinals (54-34) needed some insurance. Houston (32-58) touched Randy Choate and rookie Michael Blazek for four runs in the ninth and actually got the tying run to the on-deck circle, forcing Matheny to call on closer Edward Mujica for last-out relief.
Mujica fanned Martinez with a full-count pitch for his 24th save in 25 chances, ending a 30-minute inning and enabling St. Louis to expand its division lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates to 1 1/2 games.
NOTES: St. Louis released veteran INF Ty Wigginton and recalled C Rob Johnson from Triple-A Memphis. Wigginton hit just .158 with no homers and three RBIs in 57 at-bats over 47 games, while Johnson hit .236-7-32 in 195 at-bats for Memphis. Johnson has played in 245 major league games over parts of six seasons with the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres and New York Mets ... The Cardinals also dealt RHP Mitchell Boggs to Colorado for its No. 4 international signing bonus slot. Boggs, who was the team's top setup man last year, was demoted to Memphis for good in May and posted an ERA of just under 6.00 there ... Houston's No. 1 overall pick in June, RHP Mark Appel, worked three scoreless innings Tuesday in his second pro start for short-season Class A Tri-City and was promoted to low Class A Quad Cities right after the game.