Major League Baseball
Cards on verge of Central title
Major League Baseball

Cards on verge of Central title

Published Sep. 23, 2009 6:03 a.m. ET

Joel Pineiro rediscovered his midseason form and inched the St. Louis Cardinals closer to the NL Central title.

Pineiro allowed five hits in seven effective innings and Cardinals cut their magic number for clinching the division to two on Tuesday night with an 11-2 win over the Houston Astros.

Pineiro (15-11) struck out four and threw only 87 pitches to win for the first time in four starts. He had lost his last two outings, but looked more like the pitcher who won eight straight decisions between July 3-Sept. 1 against the Astros.

"I think I've been steady out there, that's the main thing," Pineiro said. "If I carry something from here to my next start, we'll go from there."

Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer and Colby Rasmus added a solo shot for the Cardinals, who reached 15 hits for the second straight game.

The Cardinals have scored 18 runs in two games in Houston after mustering only 11 in the previous five.

"We have a good offense, a lot of talent," La Russa said. "We have guys who can make a good argument to play and they're not in the lineup. That tells me we're deep and good."

The Astros have dropped nine in a row, their longest skid since losing 10 straight in May 2007. Interim manager Dave Clark fell to 0-2 since replacing the fired Cecil Cooper on Monday.

Yorman Bazardo (0-2), making his sixth career start for Houston, retired the first seven hitters he faced before his outing crumbled in the third inning.

Julio Lugo walked, advanced on Pineiro's bunt and scored on Skip Schumaker's single to center. Rasmus then walked before Schumaker scored on Albert Pujols' single up the middle. With Matt Holliday batting, Pujols was caught in a rundown between first and second and Rasmus scored for a 3-0 lead.

"I know I can perform up here and be good," Bazardo said. "I'm just not showing it. I'm trying to be too perfect."

Bazardo gave up three more runs in the fourth and Clark brought in left-hander Wesley Wright to relieve.

Miguel Tejada singled in the fourth and eventually scored on Geoff Blum's sacrifice fly to left. Pineiro struck out Hunter Pence and got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to end the inning.

"That was a big escape," La Russa said. "He did some outstanding pitching to get out of that. He really had good stuff. For this late in the year, that's a good sign."

St. Louis loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and stretched the lead to 7-1 when Rick Ankiel grounded into a double play.

Rasmus hit a solo homer, his 16th of the season, in the seventh off left-hander Tim Byrdak.

Mark DeRosa singled off Chad Paronto in the eighth before Molina drove an 0-1 pitch into the left-field porch, his sixth homer of the season. Paronto gave up a home run to DeRosa on Monday night.

The Cardinals can win the division with a win on Wednesday and a Cubs' loss in Milwaukee. Clark vowed that the Astros will delay any chance of a celebration.

"You don't ever want that to happen in your own back yard," Clark said. "We're not going to make it easy for anyone. Really and truly, that would be an embarrassment to the game, and we're not going to let that happen."

NOTES: The Astros announced that RHP Roy Oswalt will meet with orthopedic surgeon Andrew Dossett in Dallas on Thursday for a second opinion on his sore back. Oswalt (8-6, 4.12 ERA) has been diagnosed with a bulging disk and inflammation of a joint in his back. ... The Cardinals voided the contract of 16-year-old Wagner Mateo, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, after he failed a physical. Mateo signed a deal with the Cardinals on July 2 that included a $3.1 million signing bonus. General manager John Mozeliak said Mateo's physical revealed two injuries that led to the decision to terminate the contract. Mozeliak would not specify what the injuries were, but said they were related. ... Tejada tied the Astros record for hits in a season by a shortstop (179).


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