Cardinals squeak by Astros

Cardinals squeak by Astros

ST. LOUIS -- With their bullpen banding together for nine big outs, with a former reliever turning in a fine start, with their home crowd fervently urging them on, everything added up for the Cardinals on Friday night. Even the final score.

The Cardinals won for the first time since Josh Hancock's death, coming from behind to beat the Astros at Busch Stadium by a most appropriate score -- 3-2, the same two digits they're wearing on their jersey sleeves to commemorate Hancock's memory. The right-hander wore No. 32.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Cardinals, who attended a memorial service for Hancock in Tupelo, Miss., on their off-day on Thursday. Before the game, the club remembered Hancock with a tribute on the stadium video board as well as a moment of silence.

"I think this is very important," said Adam Wainwright (2-2), who recorded his first win since April 6 and his first quality start since April 11. "I think guys just wanted to go out there and turn this season around a little bit. You can't do that in one game, but this is a good start. We wanted to win for Josh, too. I did, anyway. I wanted to at least put a solid outing out there."

The circumstances were reminiscent of five years earlier. When the Cardinals lost Darryl Kile to a heart attack in Chicago, their first win came in the first game after a memorial service for Kile at the old Busch Stadium. In an even greater coincidence, the winning pitcher for St. Louis that night was Woody Williams -- the same man who took the loss for the Astros on Friday.

Wainwright's outing was far from clean, and it wasn't always pretty. He allowed seven hits over six innings, including three doubles. He was often in trouble, but he righted one of the problems that has plagued him much of the year, issuing a season-low two walks. Wainwright got through his six innings on a tidy 88 pitches.

That was enough to get the game to the Cardinals' bullpen, which was solid once again. Ryan Franklin allowed a two-out single but otherwise overwhelmed the Astros, striking out the side in the seventh. Craig Biggio's infield hit ended a string of six straight strikeouts for Franklin, dating back to April 26. He got a start on a new streak by fanning the next batter, Morgan Ensberg, on a check-swing to end the inning.

Randy Flores found himself in some trouble when he allowed a walk and single to open the eighth, but after he struck out Luke Scott, Jason Isringhausen extricated the Cards from the jam. Isringhausen finished the game for his seventh save in eight chances.

Every reliever who pitched recorded at least one pivotal out. They weren't thinking about their comrade while they were pitching, but in retrospect, they appreciated being able to honor him.

"When it's time to do your job, you don't think about it," Franklin said. "It's tough sometimes, and it is tough right now. But that's why you stick around, because you can set stuff aside and go out there and do your job."

Isringhausen, who described his role in the grieving process as a "fatherly" position to the team's many young relievers, did major work to help get the win. He tied former Cardinal Todd Worrell for 24th on the all-time saves list with 256, and he picked up his first save of more than three outs since July.


"I'm pretty sure he can tell you it was a mistake, and I was looking for it."
-- Albert Pujols, on the pitch he hit for a two-run double in the fifth inning

"That's what we get paid to do, is get outs," Isringhausen said. "Adam did a good job of getting through the sixth, and it's our job to cover the rest of the game.

"We wanted to win. We haven't won in a while."

The pitchers did it with big assists from Chris Duncan and Albert Pujols, the two constants in a Cardinals lineup that has had great trouble scoring runs. Duncan's RBI single and Pujols' two-run double were the big blows in a three-run fifth that got Wainwright off the hook.

While many of their cohorts batted in unfamiliar spots in the St. Louis order, Duncan and Pujols showed why manager Tony La Russa is so reluctant to fiddle theirs. The Cards batted Preston Wilson in the leadoff spot, So Taguchi fifth and David Eckstein eighth, a combination never before seen.

Wainwright was bitten by a first-inning run, and when the Cards didn't convert on a golden chance in the bottom half of the inning, a sinking feeling began to set in. That feeling was seemingly confirmed when, over the next three innings, the Astros added a second tally while the only Cards baserunner came on an infield hit.

In the fifth, though, the Cardinals' two hottest hitters turned things around. With Eckstein on second base and two out, Wilson drew a key walk to bring Duncan to the plate. Duncan responded with a solid single to center, getting the Cards on the board.

That gave Pujols a chance to drive in runs, and he did what he always seems to do with those chances. The slugger fell behind in the count, 1-2, against his old teammate, Williams, then worked it full. With a sellout crowd growing louder and louder, Pujols missed a base hit down the left-field line, placing one just foul. On the next pitch, he didn't miss. Pujols smoked a pitch up in the zone from Williams, sending a screamer down the line to bring home both runners and give the home team the lead.

"The pitch previous to that was a pretty good pitch low and away," Pujols said. "I think if he would have thrown that pitch again, he would have struck me out. But he hung the breaking ball. I'm pretty sure he can tell you it was a mistake, and I was looking for it."

After a rough start to the season, Pujols is riding a 12-game hitting streak.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.