Houston's Matt Albers (1-1) earned the win in a good impersonation of teammate Roy Oswalt's dominance on the mound. The difference between the two is that Albers came into the game with a 5.02 ERA, yet shut out the World Champs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings on a lazy St. Louis Saturday afternoon.
Kip Wells (1-6) took the loss and was charged with seven runs in 4 1/3 innings pitched, his third dreadful start in a row. Wells has allowed exactly seven earned runs in each of his last three starts, jacking his ERA up to an ugly 6.59 in the process. Prior to the season, he was considered the club's number two starter and now the number one man is out for three months. Ouch!
The Cardinals fell behind early again and the Astros scored often. The visitors collected their initial run in the first inning when third baseman Morgan Ensberg singled to open the game. It was Ensberg's first-ever leadoff assignment for the Astros. Second baseman Mark Loretta singled in the next at-bat and first baseman Lance Berkman collected the RBI with another base hit.
While that lone run was all the Astros would need on this day, their fun had just begun. In the fourth inning, right fielder Luke Scott's two-base knock earned a run. In the fifth inning, Loretta, left fielder Carlos Lee, and Scott each collected RBIs. Lee put the hammer down when he doubled to bring home three runs with the bases loaded.
Both of the newest Cardinals pitchers struggled mightily as the game turned into a laugher, at least for the road club. Down 7-0 in the sixth inning, the Cardinals and reliever Kelvin Jimenez yielded two more runs with three consecutive singles. In the top of the eighth, pitcher Dennis Dove put himself into serious trouble even before serving up a grand slam to rookie centerfielder Hunter Pence. That put the score at 13-0, but fortunately, the Astros missed the extra point.
Jim Edmonds personified the moribund Cardinals offense, going 0-for-4 and adding an error in centerfield for good measure. Shortstop David Eckstein also committed a fielding miscue. The pair, each of whom suffered concussions in 2006, are "hitting" .200 and .216, respectively, on the season.
- Albert Pujols' hitting streak ended at twelve games as he went 0-for-4 on Saturday. His home average this season is .213. The Cardinals' offensive drought reappeared against the Astros as only right fielder Scott Spiezio, leading off for just the third time as a Cardinal, left fielder Chris Duncan, who suffered through the drubbing on his 26th birthday, catcher Yadier Molina, and Eckstein earned base hits, with not a single extra-base knock among them.
- Scott Rolen's last hit was over a week ago, on the 27th in the first game of the Cubs series. He is 0-for-22 and counting with a season average of .211. Worse, he hasn't even collected a walk during that period, with just a hit-by-pitch to spoil the imperfect "perfect" week.
- In Sunday's series clincher, Houston's originally-scheduled Friday starter Chris Sampson will oppose Braden Looper in a 1:15 P.M. Central time start. Looper is hoping to right a slide of his own, as he is coming off an ugly start in Milwaukee on Tuesday during which he allowed 13 baserunners and five runs in just five innings of work.
- It was truly a team loss. The Cardinals yielded six or more runs for their 12th time in 28 games this season. Offensively, it was their 14th time in those 28 games in which they scored two or fewer runs.
- With Saturday's Cardinals loss and Houston's and Milwaukee's wins, the Redbirds find themselves firmly entrenched in sixth (last) place in the NL Central, 7 ½ games behind the Brewers. Even if the Cards take the series by winning Sunday, they are still assured of finishing the weekend in the Divisional cellar.
- The reeling Cards are 1-6 in their last seven games, all against Divisional opponents, and they are at risk of losing their third straight series, two of which have been at home. Their record at Busch Stadium is an embarrassing 4-10 here in 2007.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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