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Cards top Astros, trim magic number to 3

Cards trim magic number to 3

HOUSTON -- For most of Mark DeRosa's teammates, the Cardinals' previous trip here was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Their three-game visit in late July marks the low point from which all of the Redbirds' recent high points are measured. For DeRosa, though, it was a high-water mark. And he's glad to be back.

DeRosa continued a season of raking at Minute Maid Park with two home runs and a double, spurring the Cardinals to a 7-3 thumping of the Astros on Monday night. The win kept the Cards' National League Central lead at 10 games, and dropped their magic number for clinching the division to three.

The infielder hadn't hit a home run since Aug. 7 in Pittsburgh, a stretch of 119 at-bats. He'd recently shown some encouraging signs, however. And upon returning to Minute Maid Park, he consolidated those gains en route to his best game with the Cardinals. He put lingering left wrist troubles behind him and just concentrated on hitting, and it worked.

"I just think I went through one of the worst stretches of my career in the last six weeks," DeRosa said. "I've had a lot of things, wondering if it is the wrist that's causing me to struggle, if it's other things. I think the last two or three games, even though I didn't have a ton of hits, I felt good at the plate."

Houston seemed to provide a tonic for the entire St. Louis offense, which had been stagnant over a recent homestand. Wandy Rodriguez, long a nemesis for Cards hitters, retired the first two batters of the game, but then couldn't finish off the frame. Albert Pujols doubled, Matt Holliday singled him home, Ryan Ludwick added a single and DeRosa delivered two more runs with a double to right field.

More notably, once the Cards got Rodriguez up against the ropes, they actually managed to knock him out. The Redbirds have been a pretty good first-inning team in 2009. The problem has been following up, and on Monday they did that. Three singles and a sacrifice fly made it 5-1 in the second before DeRosa went deep in the third.

"He's a quality hitter," manager Tony La Russa said. "I just think he's going to be there for us. He feels good at the plate. It's a nice time of year for him to get hot. I just know he's a tough out, and if he's healthy, he'll help us."

The two-homer game was the fourth of DeRosa's career, and his second this year. The other one also came in Houston, on July 21 in a loss to the Astros. He went deep three times in that series, going 5-for-11 over three games. For his career, DeRosa has hit .325 and slugged .675 at Minute Maid Park.

"Ever since he's been over there, he's been tearing us up," said new Astros interim manager Dave Clark. "We all know he's a pretty good hitter and has been around a long time and has a real good track record."

The offense was plenty for starter Kyle Lohse, who wasn't at his very best but turned in his most encouraging start in six weeks. He allowed three runs, two of them on solo home runs, five hits and one walk while striking out four. It was his longest outing and first quality start since he permitted one run in six innings on Sept. 10. Lohse has been dealing with ongoing discomfort in his right forearm and skipped his previous turn in the rotation as a result of the condition.

"When I came back the first time from it, I obviously wasn't consistent at all," Lohse said. "A lot of it was issues with the strength in there. ... I got into some really bad habits. When you look at the film, I was all over the place and wasn't able to repeat. It was a big circle of things, flaws that I needed to correct. It was a good start today, and I'll just try to take it into my next bullpen and next game."

Before Monday night, St. Louis had been held to three or fewer runs in each of its previous five games and seven out of nine.

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

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