Astros 5, Cardinals 2

Even their opponents are surprised by the St. Louis Cardinals’

slide.

Hunter Pence hit a three-run homer and the Houston Astros

completed a sweep of St. Louis with a 5-2 victory Wednesday,

handing the slumping Cardinals their fifth straight defeat.

”Their backs are against the wall, not ours, and it didn’t look

like they wanted to come out and beat us,” Blum said. ”It’s

really surprising. For whatever reason, we got to them at their

weakest point.

”I don’t know if they were just laid back because they were

coming in to play us.”

The fading Cardinals, who have lost 13 of 16, began the day

seven games behind first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central. The

Reds were scheduled to host Milwaukee later.

”I’m not all that excited on the reception we’re going to get

when we get home,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ”I know

we deserve to get it. But we’ll tough it out. This is a tough

group. We’ll just show them we’re a better ballclub than what we

just played on this road trip. That’s our assignment.”

Nelson Figueroa (4-2) pitched out of two bases-loaded jams and

lasted five innings for the win. Brandon Lyon worked a perfect

ninth for his 11 save in 12 chances, sealing Houston’s 14th victory

in 20 games.

”It’s been exciting,” Figueroa said. ”We play exciting

baseball and we’re always putting the pressure on the other team

and it’s only going to make us better going down the stretch and

looking forward to next year.”

Shut out 3-0 the previous two nights, St. Louis snapped an

18-inning scoreless streak on Matt Holliday’s 24th homer in the

first for a 2-0 lead.

Jeff Suppan (1-7) was activated from the disabled list before

the game and allowed only one hit until the Astros rallied in the

fifth.

Brett Wallace drew a leadoff walk and went to third on Jason

Castro’s double. Pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic hit a grounder to

first baseman Albert Pujols, who threw out Wallace at the plate.

Michael Bourn hit a sacrifice fly and Jeff Keppinger walked before

Pence’s go-ahead homer.

”It wasn’t about pitch selection,” Suppan said. ”It was

mostly about pitch location. If there’s a leadoff walk, I need to

throw strikes. We’re just grinding. Today’s over with, now we’re

getting ready for our next series.”

Bourn singled in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 11

games. He scored on Carlos Lee’s sacrifice fly.

Figueroa escaped a jam in the third, when Suppan led off with a

walk and Skip Schumaker singled. Aaron Miles and Pujols flied out

and Figueroa hit Holliday with a pitch to load the bases before Jon

Jay grounded into a force play.

St. Louis loaded the bases again in the fifth on singles by

Miles and Jay and an intentional walk to Holliday with two outs.

Ex-Astro Pedro Feliz flied out to end the threat.

Figueroa allowed two runs and six hits. Five relievers combined

to hold the Cardinals to one hit over the final four innings.

”Just go up and do your part and when the pitching gives up two

runs a game or less, you are going to win a lot,” Pence said.

”That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to give them credit.”

Schumaker doubled to start the game but was thrown out on the

bases when Miles hit a comebacker to Figueroa. Pujols, hitless in

his last 13 at-bats, fouled out before Holliday’s homer.

The Cardinals have scored two runs in their last 36 innings. The

consecutive shutouts the previous two nights marked the first time

in 94 years that St. Louis had been blanked with three hits or

fewer in back-to-back games.

Suppan made his first start since Aug. 1, when he pitched 5 1-3

scoreless innings against the Phillies. He went five innings and

allowed four runs, three hits and four walks.

”You’ve got to play nine innings,” La Russa said. ”You score

first, you have a pretty good chance to win, but that’s the last

time we scored. We’ve had that formula a couple of times on this

trip. It doesn’t work. We stunk today and stunk the whole

trip.”

Notes: The Cardinals called up outfielder Nick Stavinoha and

catcher Matt Pagnozzi from Triple-A Memphis. They also activated

left-hander Dennys Reyes from the disabled list. Keppinger (toe

injury) came off the disabled list before the game. … Lee is

among the major league leaders with 30 RBIs since July 28.