But the difference-maker was much-scrutinized and oft-maligned left fielder Chris Duncan. Not only did Duncan catch everything hit his way -- five balls in all, including an outstanding play on a first-inning liner -- but he accounted for the two first-inning runs with a two-out single.
"If everybody on our roster was as talented and as a tough a competitor and as a great teammate as that young man, we may never lose," manager Tony La Russa said.
Lohse said, "He made some good plays out there tonight. I can't complain. And you really can't complain when he drives in two runs in the first."
After Lohse departed, the Cardinals bullpen did the rest, with righty Kyle McClellan, lefty Ron Villone, righty Chris Perez and righty Ryan Franklin all recording outs over the final three innings. Franklin did surrender Lance Berkman's 17th homer, a 428-foot poke leading off the ninth.
Franklin, who earned his fourth save, said he had no intention of putting Berkman on to start a potential rally.
"Berkman's a great hitter, but there's no way he can hit a three-run homer," Franklin said. "So what if he hits a home run? I'm not going to pitch around him. Obviously, it was a bad pitch."
CARDINALS 3, ASTROS 2: Kyle Lohse permitted just five hits, including Carlos Lee's 12th homer, as he improved his record to 5-2. Over his last two starts, covering 12 innings, Lohse has allowed only one run. The Cardinals took two games out of three from Houston.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--LHP Mark Mulder has almost hit the wall. He has had two cortisone shots in the last week in hopes that his shoulder would come around, but nothing has happened. Mulder said he won't have a third surgery. Manager Tony La Russa isn't expecting Mulder to return until after the All-Star break. "He's been dealing with this for a couple of years," La Russa said. "It's pretty tough to take. This is his career."
--RHP Chris Carpenter, recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, might be available before the All-Star break.
--2B Adam Kennedy was in the lineup Thursday night. Manager Tony La Russa took note of some things Kennedy said in the morning paper. Among them was Kennedy's statement that he would never be a regular player with the Cardinals. La Russa said, "Hasn't he had more starts (34) at second base than anybody on our club? I'm trying to understand it. I have a great respect for Adam. He's saying it for a reason, but I'm not sure I understand it."
--C Jason LaRue made a rare start Thursday on the basis of his .308 career mark against Houston RHP Roy Oswalt. He was hitless in three at-bats and dropped to .136 on the season.
--LHP Ron Villone, who retired one hitter, appeared in his 600th game, 25th among active pitchers.
--1B Albert Pujols' homer in the sixth inning was the 295th of his career.