Cards spoil Astros' day, dropping Houston in 11 innings

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- After the Houston Astros re-signed Roger Clemens, the St. Louis Cardinals put some more distance between themselves and their top rival in the NL Central.

So Taguchi's bases-loaded single in the 11th inning off Mike Gallo gave the Cardinals a 4-3 victory on Wednesday, spoiling Houston's first game since re-signing Clemens. The Cardinals took two of three from the Astros, who beat them in the NLCS last year en route to their first World Series.

"There's definitely a little more of that extra oomph, or whatever you want to call it," David Eckstein said. "Hopefully we get up for every game, but it's definitely nice to be able to go out there and take two out of three from them."

The Astros rebounded from a 15-30 start to win the NL wild card last year. They're in third place in the Central at 27-27, 7˝ games back of the Cardinals, after wrapping up a 3-7 trip.

"It's been a tough, tough road trip," manager Phil Garner said. "I'm glad to get it over and get home for a while."

Eckstein had two hits, scored twice and avoided injury when he was hit on the wrist in the 11th. Albert Pujols drove in his major league-leading 65th run for the Cardinals.

Taguchi, the Cardinals' fourth outfielder, is 6-for-10 with eight RBI with the bases loaded this season and 16-for-30 for his career. In his two previous at-bats after entering as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, he said he chased too many pitches out of the zone.

"That's a great situation," Taguchi said. "The pitcher has to pitch a strike, so I was just waiting middle, and the ball comes middle."

Gallo took two losses on the trip.

"This game's streaky," Gallo said. "Eventually, there's only one way to go, and that's up."

Braden Looper (3-0) struck out one in a perfect 11th for the Cardinals, who are an NL-best 20-8 at new Busch Stadium and have not lost a series there.

Orlando Palmeiro had two hits and scored twice for the Astros, who finished a dismal 11-19 May and are 8-19 on the road.

Yadier Molina doubled off Gallo (1-2) with one out in the 11th, the Cardinals' first hit since the fifth. Molina remained at second on Aaron Miles' infield hit, gloved by sprawling third baseman Morgan Ensberg. Gallo hit Eckstein in the wrist on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases and Taguchi singled up the middle on a 1-0 count.

"That was a fine piece of hitting," manager Tony La Russa said. "He didn't try to do too much, just stroked it."

Palmeiro, who entered the game 0-for-17 against Jeff Suppan, was
2-for-2 and scored twice in his first two at-bats. He doubled in the first and scored on Lance Berkman's single and then singled to start the third and scored on Chris Burke's groundout for a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals missed a chance for an inning-ending double play on Burke's ball when Mike Lamb, running from first, dodged the tag attempt of second baseman Miles. Second base umpire Bruce Dreckman ruled that Lamb did not leave the basepath.

The Cardinals loaded the bases in the first against Taylor Buchholz thanks to a potential double-play grounder by Pujols that hit Dreckman. After Scott Rolen was plunked to load the bases with one out, Buchholz got Juan Encarnacion on a shallow fly ball and Larry Bigbie struck out looking.

Pujols' groundout in the third scored Eckstein, who hit a leadoff double.

The Astros' decision to intentionally walk Pujols with one out and a runner on second in the fifth backfired when Rolen followed with an RBI double, his third double in two games, to tie it. The Cardinals took a 3-2 lead when Encarnacion struck out on a wild pitch that allowed Pujols to score from third.

Suppan had a pair of three-up, three-down innings with the help of a double play in the fourth and fifth and retired the first two in the sixth before the Astros tied it on doubles by Brad Ausmus
and Eric Bruntlett.

Buchholz gave up three runs and five hits in five innings. He was 1-3 in six May starts, allowing 30 runs in 32 innings.

Game notes
Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds missed his fifth straight start with a lower abdominal injury. He was scheduled to meet with a specialist on Wednesday with suspicion returning to a sports hernia, and La Russa expects him to be placed on the 15-day disabled list. Encarnacion made his first start of the season in center. ... Buchholz singled in the second for his first career hit after starting the season 0-for-19 -- the most at-bats for a position player or pitcher this year without a hit, according to Stats, Inc. ... Eckstein leads the NL with 23 multihit games. An X-ray after the hit by pitch showed only a bruise on his left wrist.