Manager Tony La Russa, ignoring for the most part that Houston's Lance Berkman had homered and doubled off Carpenter earlier in the game, decided to have Carpenter pitch to Berkman with a runner at second and two outs in the eighth inning, with the Cardinals ahead 5-4. When the count ran to 3-2, catcher Yadier Molina called time, and Carpenter lurched off the mound. When play resumed, Carpenter left the next pitch over the plate, and Berkman cracked his career-high 43rd homer to give the Astros a 6-5 victory. Luke Scott was the next hitter in the Houston lineup, and he was hitting .376, but he had been 0-for-3 Thursday night when Berkman came up.
La Russa said that Carpenter had generally been successful against Berkman but said, "It would have been a good time for me to make a trip out there (to the mound). I kick myself for that. I left those two guys (Molina and Carpenter) out there on their own."
Carpenter said, "It was a bad mistake. I left it in the middle of the plate. That's it."
Carpenter had a National League-leading 2.79 ERA before the game but gave up six earned runs in eight innings to raise the mark to 2.93. His road ERA is 4.70.
The Cardinals' magic number still is five for clinching the division title. They are 34-44 on the road this year with three games remaining,
REPLAY: Right-hander Chris Carpenter suffered his first defeat since Aug. 4 when he surrendered a two-game, game-losing home run to Houston's Lance Berkman in the eighth inning Thursday as Houston rallied for a 6-5 victory. Carpenter (15-7) had been staked to 3-0 and 5-2 leads.
--RHP Jason Isringhausen underwent successful surgery in Nashville, Tenn., to repair damage to his left hip. The club hopes Isringhausen, who is signed for next year, will be ready a month into the season.
--RHP Chris Carpenter, though he was the losing pitcher, singled to start a two-run rally in the third inning. Carpenter has allowed six homers to Houston 1B Lance Berkman, who took him deep twice Thursday.
--The earliest the Cardinals can clinch the National League Central title is Sunday night in Houston.
--SS David Eckstein, trying to come back from a strained left oblique muscle, is throwing with less pain now and may be able to play in the field in the next couple of days.
--The Cardinals were just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position Thursday, and the last 14 hitters went down in order.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Number of starts out of 31 in which RHP Jason Marquis (14-15) has not had a decision, through Sept. 15.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to quit on my team." -- RHP Jason Isringhausen, who is afflicted with a sore left hip and who had been hopeful of pitching again this season but has finally been shut down.
RHP Jason Isringhausen hasn't pitched since Sept. 6 because of pain in his left hip. He had arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 21, and he is out for the season.
SS David Eckstein went on the disabled list retroactive to Aug. 19 because of a strained left oblique muscle. He was activated on Sept. 15, and he made his first game appearance Sept. 18, entering as a pinch hitter.
3B Scott Rolen has been playing through a sore left shoulder.
CF Jim Edmonds left the game Aug. 15 with dizziness caused by post-concussion syndrome. He appeared several times as a defensive replacement and a pinch hitter before returning to the lineup Aug. 25. He has been out since Aug. 26. He took batting practice Sept. 11, but he didn't travel with the team for the road trip the week of Sept. 18-24.
LHP Mark Mulder, who had been out since June 21 with a left shoulder strain, was activated from the disabled list on Aug. 23. He was hit hard in starts Aug. 23 and Aug. 29, and went back on the DL on Aug. 31. He had season-ending arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 12 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.
OF Larry Bigbie went on the disabled list June 6 with a hernia, and he had surgery on June 8. He started a rehab assignment July 12, but he was shut down July 22 after suffering abdominal pain. He resumed his rehab Aug. 2 with Double-A Springfield, then was shut down again in mid-August because of abdominal discomfort.
LHP Ricardo Rincon went on the disabled list retroactive to April 19 with a left shoulder injury. He underwent surgery to repair rotator cuff and impingement problems and will miss the remainder of the season.