Three Astros homer to deliver Cards their third loss in four games

HOUSTON -- A three-run deficit doesn't scare a team that's playing its best baseball of the season.

That's why the Houston Astros didn't panic when they got behind by three in the first inning.

Ty Wigginton and Hunter Pence hit home runs during a six-run first inning and the Houston Astros held on for an 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.

"It was early in the game," Pence said of the three runs Brian Moehler gave up. "And you know Moehler's going to battle. He ended up pitching a great game for us. You know he's a gutsy guy and he's aggressive and going to give us a chance. We just had to get some runs for him."

Moehler (10-5) went six innings and allowed three runs and seven hits, striking out a season-high tying six. He improved to 4-0 in seven career starts against the Cardinals.

"Moehler did a little bit of bending," manager Cecil Cooper said. "He did a great job of keeping us close."

In the third inning, the Cardinals got a double play on what appeared to be a missed call by second base umpire Marvin Hudson. Pence was on second with one out when Humberto Quintero hit a liner to center field, where Skip Schumaker dove for the ball.

Schumaker jumped up as if he'd made the catch and threw to shortstop Cesar Izturis to double up Pence. As Cooper argued the call with Hudson, replays clearly showed the ball bounced into Schumaker's glove.

Cooper was ejected from the game. It was his fifth ejection of the season.

"I was sitting in my seat and saw it," Cooper said. "I'm an old man and I saw it with my natural eyes. He blew it and he refused to get help. That's the thing that upset me. He said he saw it as no catch.

"That took a run off the board for us and probably at least a double away from a kid who's scratching for hits."

Schumaker admitted the ball hit the ground.

"I didn't really know what the deal was," he said. "I knew it short-hopped me and I popped up like I caught it. I knew it was a short-hop. I also knew it was a tough one. It was up to the umpire and it was a tough call for him to make."

Manager Tony La Russa was more concerned with the rough start by Braden Looper.

Looper (12-11) went 4 1/3 innings and allowed eight runs and 11 hits and three walks to take the loss.

"He was just up," La Russa said. "That's not his game or anybody's game and he got it up and got nailed.

Looper had no excuses.

"Basically, the guys put three runs on the board for me and if I did my job we would have had a good chance to win the game," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't.

"I just had to make an adjustment and get the ball down. I kept trying to pound the strike zone and get ahead, and I was just missing a lot and falling behind. When you do that, they're going to make you pay."

The Astros won their fourth straight and improved to 20-9 in the month of August, third best in the National league behind Chicago and Milwaukee.

LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect eighth and Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his 36th save in 42 tries. Valverde has saves in each of his last nine appearances.

St. Louis jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Ankiel's three-run homer in the first inning. It was his 25th of the season.

Wigginton, who leads the majors in August home runs with 11, hit his 20th of the year, a two-run shot in the first to narrow the Cardinals lead.

Geoff Blum's RBI double then tied it and Pence hit a three-run homer for a 6-3 lead.

David Newhan then doubled before Looper was able to record his first outs, a grounder by Quintero and a strikeout of Moehler.

Blum's two-run homer gave Houston an 8-3 lead in the fifth.

Albert Pujols went 4-for-4 with his 29th homer, a two-run shot in the seventh.

Game notes

After getting a single in the first inning, Pujols' double in the third was his 1,500th career hit. ... Blum extended his career high with his 13th homer. His previous best was 11 in 2000. ... Molina's hit in the second gave him a 10-game hitting streak. ... The errorless game gave Houston 96 for the season, tying the 2002 team for third best in team history. The 2006 team had 102 errorless games and 2005 had 97. Houston's 58 errors are the fewest in the NL.