This game was more significant because right-hander Chris Carpenter, the staff ace, couldn't stop the bleeding. The Cardinals staked Carpenter (3-2) to a 2-0 lead, but he gave up the lead in the fourth on a two-run homer by Lance Berkman and then fell behind in the fifth on Willy Taveras' single.
For the first time in 10 days, the Cardinals had Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds in the lineup at the same time. Rolen, having missed nine games with a viral infection, had a single, double and walk as he played the whole game, which manager Tony La Russa had suggested before the game he wouldn't do.
The Cardinals are 2-8 on the road against Central Division teams.
But as the bench wore thin in the late innings, backup catcher Gary Bennett had to bat against Houston closer Brad Lidge with two on and two out in the ninth. Bennett grounded into a forceout before Albert Pujols, who beat Lidge with a homer in the playoffs last year, could get to the plate, and the Cardinals lost 4-3.
--LHP Mark Mulder, who went to St. Louis to be checked for a sore back, got a clean bill of health and will take his turn on Saturday night at Florida.
--RHP Adam Wainwright, who would have started Saturday's game if Mark Mulder couldn't, knocked off two more perfect innings of relief Thursday, fanning three. Wainwright has given up only one run in 13 2/3 innings.
--OF John Rodriguez stretched his hitting streak to seven games with a pinch single in the ninth. He is 9 for 16 in that span, including two pinch hits and another in his only at-bat after coming into the game on a double switch.
--C Yadier Molina hit safely for the second consecutive game, getting a single in the seventh. He had been nothing for 16 before that, and his average had dropped to .148.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of games the Cardinals will play in Canada, the first time they haven't played in that country since 1969.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He invents things as he goes." -- CF Jim Edmonds, talking about Chicago Cubs RHP Greg Maddux after Maddux beat the Cardinals for the second straight time.
STOP THE BLEEDING: The Cardinals will be turning to starting pitching, Jeff Suppan to stop a four-game losing skid.
Jeff Suppan will be seeking his 3rd straight Friday night when the Cardinals open a 3-game weekend series at the Florida Marlins. Suppan has evened his record at 2-2 for the year and 96-96 career with wins in each of his past two starts.
"Soup" is 2-2, 3.51 career vs. the Marlins, including a 2-0, 1.96 record at Dolphins Stadium in 4 games...was 1-1, 3.09 against the Marlins in 2005.