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HOU@STL: Wainwright strikes out nine over seven

ST. LOUIS -- The numbers suggested it would be a mismatch: Adam Wainwright, with his career 13-1 record and 1.57 ERA against an Astros team that entered losers in eight of their last 10 with an offense that ranks among the worst in baseball.

And a mismatch it was.

In their first visit to Busch Stadium as a member of the American League, the last-place Astros had no answer for Wainwright. The Cardinals' ace cruised to his 12th win, leading the Cardinals to a 9-5 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 43,836. The win was the Cardinals' fourth in a row and included six run-scoring innings by the offense.

"We had a tough stretch there for a minute, so it's good to get back on track," Wainwright said. "I think what you saw about a week ago was probably a little fatigue by the team. We want to finish strong here and get that good break and get ready for the second half."

Aside from a brief blip in the sixth, Wainwright was nearly unhittable in what will be his last start against the Astros for at least three years. It wasn't until former Cardinals prospect Brett Wallace doubled with one out in the sixth that Houston had a runner in scoring position.

Wallace came around to score, but Wainwright was stingy afterward. The league leader in innings pitched (140 2/3) finished seven frames for the 15th time in 19 starts. With his nine strikeouts and 11 groundouts, Wainwright recorded only one out beyond the infield.

That was a product of keeping his fastball down and varying the speed of his curveball.

"He's just very aggressive in the zone," Wallace said. "[He] comes right at you and he just knows what he's doing up there. He's one of the best in the business for a reason. He's always a tough matchup."

Wainwright lowered his ERA to 2.30, a mark that sits third-best in the National League. In nine of his starts, the All-Star right-hander has given up one or no earned runs. He has one start remaining before the midseason break. With that in mind and wanting to avoid unnecessary overuse, manager Mike Matheny ended Wainwright's day at a modest 97 pitches.

"It's never easy against a big league squad, but I felt like I stayed out of trouble for the most part," Wainwright said. "The hits were singles except for Wallace's double. If you're just going to give up a single here or there, you're going to be OK."

All eight position players in the Cardinals' lineup got involved in the scoring against Astros starter and usual Cardinals slayer Bud Norris. Norris resembled nothing of the dominant pitcher he's been against this club throughout his career, though that was because the Cardinals took away his most effective pitch.

By laying off Norris' slider, the Cardinals routinely worked themselves into hitters' counts and were able to ambush Norris' fastball.

"If he's not getting swings on that slider, we have a pretty good chance," said Daniel Descalso, who recorded a pair of doubles while starting at shortstop. "That's going to be the recipe for success."

Matt Holliday teed off for a two-run homer -- his 13th long ball of the season -- in the first. After the bottom of the order pieced together some momentum an inning later, Matt Carpenter contributed a sacrifice fly.

It was the first of three runs Carpenter drove in during his three-hit game. He also scored three times from the leadoff spot. Carpenter and Carlos Beltran delivered two-out RBI hits in the fourth to push the Cardinals' lead to six. Carpenter had entered the game with only one hit in 12 previous at-bats against Norris.

"I was honestly surprised when I looked at my stats going into today, because I always felt like I saw him well and felt comfortable in there," Carpenter said. "When I was talking to [hitting coach John] Mabry before the game, I said, 'I guess I'm due for a couple hits against this guy.'"

A two-out hit by Jon Jay tacked on a run in the fifth. Carpenter doubled and scored on Allen Craig's hit the following inning. Craig bumped his RBI total to 71, second-best in the NL, with another in the eighth. He, along with Carpenter and David Freese, enjoyed three-hit games. Every Cardinals position player reached base at least twice.

By the time he was chased, Norris surrendered seven runs on 11 hits. In nine of his previous 15 starts against St. Louis, Norris held the Cards to one or no earned runs.

"It was just impressive to watch everybody go up there and take a real competitive at-bat," Carpenter said. "Rarely do you see a game where everybody is up there laying off tough pitches, working counts. Even our outs were hard. It was a real complete offense day, and that speaks volumes to what kind of offense we think we have in this clubhouse."

The Astros made the game look closer than it ever was by scoring four times in the ninth.

Three of the runs were charged to Michael Blazek, who hadn't pitched in a week. The inning got messy enough that Matheny had to call upon closer Edward Mujica to end it. Mujica, pitching in his fifth straight game, struck out the only batter he faced to pick up his 24th save.

Matheny said he "absolutely didn't" want to have to summon Mujica, whose availability for Wednesday is now in question because of his recent workload.

Blazek's command issues were not mirrored by fellow rookie reliever Kevin Siegrist, whose scoreless work in the eighth earned him a spot in the franchise record books. Siegrist is the first Cardinals pitcher to open his Major League career with 12 consecutive scoreless appearances, surpassing Tyler Johnson's 11 in 2006.

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