(Sports Network) – When Albert Pujols starts to heat up, it’s bad news for everybody except the St. Louis Cardinals.
The slugging first baseman has homered in four straight games and will try to keep rolling tonight in the second installment of a three-game series against the Houston Astros from Minute Maid Park.
Pujols has hit five homers during the streak and is one game shy of matching his career high for most consecutive games going deep, set back in 2007.
The former NL MVP cracked a solo home run in the eighth inning during Tuesday’s 7-4 victory, the Cardinals’ fourth in a row and 15th in the past 21 games. Former Astros slugger Lance Berkman set the tone with a two-run home run in the first inning in his return to the lineup. He missed Sunday’s win over the Chicago Cubs after receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing right wrist the previous day.
“That was huge to get us off the zero there,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa of Berkman’s home run. “Everything that happened, we needed every bit of it. The [final] score is very misleading.”
St. Louis’ Ryan Theriot was hitless in his first four at-bats, but then doubled in a run in the final inning to stretch his career-best hitting streak to 20 games.
In other injury news for the Cardinals, outfielder Allen Craig left the game in the first inning with a right knee contusion after he ran into the stands chasing a foul ball. He is day-to-day.
Cardinals winning pitcher Jake Westbrook stymied the Astros with his bat by stroking a bases-clearing double in the fourth inning to give his team a 5-2 advantage. Westbrook lasted 5 1/3 innings on the hill and allowed three runs — two earned — on eight hits and three walks to push his record to 6-3. Fernando Salas tossed the final two frames for his 11th save.
The Cardinals are 1-0 on a three-city, nine-game road trip and own a 2 1/2- game lead over Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Brewers lost to the New York Mets last night.
Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia was able to bounce back into the win column following his first loss of the season his last time out, and gets the nod tonight in Houston. Garcia was blasted for 12 runs — 11 earned — and 11 hits over 3 1/3 innings of a 15-4 blowout loss at Colorado on May 28. He then responded nicely in Friday’s 6-1 triumph over the Cubs, as he fired eight innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts.
Garcia is 6-1 with a 3.05 earned run average in 12 starts this season. He is 2-1 in seven road outings and will face Houston for the second time in 2011, having pitched in a 6-5 loss at Minute Maid Park on April 26. He did not record a decision that day and yielded four runs — three earned — in six innings.
The left-hander is 0-1 with a 6.10 ERA in two career starts against the Astros.
Houston has dropped four in a row since a season-best four-game winning streak and began a 10-game homestand in losing fashion. Carlos Lee belted a two-run homer and Chris Johnson finished with two hits and an RBI for the Astros, who are 4-7 in their last 11 contests.
The Astros went 0-for-6 with the bases loaded and stranded 13 men on base. Outfielder Michael Bourn expressed his displeasure on that topic afterwards.
“I was up there twice and struck out twice with the bases loaded,” Bourn said on Houston’s site. “I take blame for that. We’re getting hits and had runners on. We left 13 on tonight, and with that said, you leave that many on and have that many opportunities — you have to try to seize the moment. I know I didn’t do my part of at least getting one in those two at-bats.”
Astros center fielder Hunter Pence went 2-for-4 with a run scored to extend his career-best hitting streak to 18 games. He has three homers and 13 RBI in that span.
Brett Myers got the start for Houston last night and gave up six hits and five runs over six innings to absorb the loss.
The Astros will also host Atlanta and Pittsburgh on this residency and have lost four in row at Minute Maid Park.
Bud Norris, who will get the starting nod for Houston tonight, was 1-4 with a 4.60 earned run average in a five-start span before coming out on top at San Diego his last time out on Thursday. He gave up four runs in six innings of a 7-4 win over the Padres. Norris received more than enough run support in the win, which improved him to 3-4 with a 3.95 ERA in 12 starts this year.
Norris, a right-hander, is 0-1 in two outings against St. Louis this season, but owns a solid 5-2 mark in eight career starts in this series.
St. Louis has won five of six matchups with Houston this season and five straight overall in the series. The Astros compiled a 10-5 mark in the 2010 series.