Cardinals finish two-game sweep

First-year starter Kyle McClellan became the National League’s first six-game winner and backup catcher Gerald Laird made his 10th start of the season count with a two-run double as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 4-2 on Thursday for a two-game sweep.

Allen Craig homered in a three-hit game as the stand-in cleanup batter for injured Matt Holliday. The Cardinals completed a 4-0 homestand behind stingy pitching that allowed only five runs. They jumped a half-game ahead of the Reds atop the NL Central.

J.A. Happ (3-5) had a season-high eight strikeouts for the Astros, allowing three runs in six innings. Houston has lost five in a row, totaling just 29 hits while getting outscored 22-10.

Albert Pujols was 0 for 3 with a walk and has gone a career-high 91 at-bats since his last home run. Pujols has been stuck on seven homers since April 23 and the homerless drought tops his previous worst of 89 at-bats at the end of the 2009 season when he led the NL with 47.

After the start was delayed 55 minutes by rain, McClellan (6-1) allowed two runs in eight innings with five strikeouts and no walks. He retired the first 10 in order before Clint Barmes doubled with one out in the fourth for the Astros’ first baserunner.

Barmes went to third on Hunter Pence’s single and scored on Carlos Lee’s sacrifice fly.

McClellan hurt himself in the eighth with two wild pitches, doubling his season total. The second allowed Humberto Quintero to score the Astros’ second run.

The previous three seasons McClellan had been a setup man, and he replaced injured Adam Wainwright in the rotation this year. The right-hander has worked eight innings in two of his last three starts and he bounced back from his first loss in his previous appearance.

Fernando Salas worked the ninth for his fifth save in five chances.

The Cardinals opened the second with a single, walk and Laird’s fifth double of the season – one more than Pujols in only his 43rd at-bat – off the base of the left-field wall. Laird made his first start in eight days for the Cardinals, who are 8-2 when he starts.

Craig hit his second homer and first since April 11 on a full count leading off the sixth to make it 3-1. St. Louis capitalized on second baseman Bill Hall’s fielding error to start the seventh with an RBI single by Ryan Theriot for a 4-1 cushion.

NOTES: Hall returned to the Astros’ lineup after a two-day rest and was 0 for 3. … Craig had been 1 for 10 in the first three games of the homestand. … Cardinals starting catcher Yadier Molina is on a 10-for-15 tear with four straight multihit games, his best since compiling five straight June 16-20, 2009. … CF Colby Rasmus returned to the Cardinals’ lineup after missing four games due to an abdominal injury and had a double and a walk.