Scuffling Cardinals lose fifth straight

Scuffling Cardinals lose fifth straight

HOUSTON -- At least in this game, the Cardinals scored. Another positive note is that the 10-game road trip, which produced only two wins, is over.

This one ended like the previous four games -- with a loss. Despite Matt Holliday's two-run homer in the first inning, the Cardinals lost to the Astros, 5-2, on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

In losing all three games of the series to the Astros, the slumping Cardinals (69-62) have little momentum entering this weekend's three-game homestand with the National League Central-leading Reds.

"We stunk today, and we stunk the whole trip," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "I'm not excited about the reception we'll get on Friday. They have a right to be unhappy, and I understand."

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Holliday's home run to left field provided the only runs they would score against the Astros the whole series. The Astros won the first two games of the series by identical 3-0 scores. Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, who entered the series having hits in 16 of his previous 18 games against Houston, went 0-for-10 in the three games.

The Astros countered Holliday's 24th homer of the season with Hunter Pence's three-run homer off Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan (1-7) into the Crawford Boxes in left field. Pence's homer gave the Astros a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning and helped them to their ninth win in 11 games.

"We're in a good place right now," Astros shortstop Geoff Blum said. "We came off the road playing good ball and faced a Cardinals team that hasn't been playing extremely well against sub-.500 teams and we know that. Their backs are against the wall, not ours. And it didn't look like they wanted to come out and beat us at all."

The Cardinals finished 5-10 against the Astros this season.

The series in Houston, like the rest of the road trip, was a poor showing for the Cardinals, who are desperately trying to stay alive in the division and Wild Card races. But their play hasn't been up to playoff standards. On the morning of May 1, the Cardinals were 15-8. Since then they have been a .500 team at 54-54.

"There's no time to put it off," said Holliday. "We have to play better.

"We have to start winning and win a lot. It can be done."

In order to start winning, the Cardinals must generate more offense than they showed in Houston. In the first two games of the series, they totaled five hits. On Wednesday, the Cardinals out-hit the Astros, 7-6, but twice left the bases loaded without scoring.

"We scored two early runs, but it was the last time we scored," said La Russa. "But we're getting beat as a team."

Holliday's home run snapped the Cardinals' scoreless streak at 18 innings. Holliday's 2010 home run total equals his total from last season, when it took him 28 more games.

The Cardinals were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. On Tuesday, they were 0-for-8.

"When we had chances to score, we didn't score," said Holliday, who was 1-for-2 on Wednesday with a walk and a hit-by-pitch on his next at-bat after homering off Nelson Figueroa. "We're struggling, offensively, but we can turn it around in one game."

The Cardinals left the bases loaded in the third and fifth innings with a two-run lead. In the third, Jon Jay grounded out to Figueroa (4-2), who got the final out of the inning on a force at home. In the fifth, Pedro Feliz, who began the season with the Astros, flied to center for the third out.

The Astros' four-run fifth inning was the difference in the game. Suppan, who came off the disabled list on Wednesday, walked Brett Wallace to lead off the inning. He also walked Jeff Keppinger, prior to facing Pence.

Poor pitch location got Suppan, as Pence connected on a pitch down. The Astros had cut the deficit to 2-1 on Michael Bourn's sacrifice fly. The Astros added a run in the seventh, as Bourn scored on a Carlos Lee sacrifice fly.

"It came down to the fifth inning," said Suppan. "I wasn't able to pitch out of the situation. [Pence] did a good job."

Thursday's open date is the Cardinals' last of the season, as they have 31 games to play.

"We just have to go out there with a fresh attitude every game," said Holliday.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.