<
>

Astros win series 2-1

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Suddenly, the St. Louis Cardinals can't do
anything right.

Jeff Kent had two doubles and four RBI, and the slumping
Cardinals committed a season-high four errors to help the Houston
Astros snap Jason Marquis' 11-game winning streak with an 8-3
victory on Thursday night.

"You don't want to sugarcoat it," manager Tony La Russa said.
"Bad ballgame. Good for them, bad for us."

The Astros took two of three from the NL Central leaders,
staying two games behind the Giants in the wild-card race and
keeping the Cardinals' magic number for clinching the division at
four.

"The bottom line is we still have to win," Astros manager Phil
Garner said. "They've made a mockery of the division race and to
take two of three is very important."

La Russa said he wouldn't use this game as a motivational tool.

"This is not TV or the movies," La Russa said. "Our club,
they're very realistic, very honest with themselves. They know
we're not playing as good as we can play, so let's do something
about it."

The Cardinals have lost six of nine, and have lost three
straight series after winning 11 of the previous 14 series.

"We just haven't been playing ball like we're capable of, but
at least it's happening now," Reggie Sanders said. "There's a
time when you're going to go through a down slide and this is just
our time."

Albert Pujols and John Mabry homered for the Cardinals. Pujols
has a career-best 44 home runs -- one more than last year -- and his
first-inning shot off Brandon Backe was his first long ball in 11
games.

St. Louis had two errors in the third and two more in the
fourth, contributing to three unearned runs.

Hector Luna, subbing for Edgar Renteria at shortstop, had two
miscues to equal his season total. He lost his grip on a relay to
the plate and threw the ball straight into the turf, then heaved
the ball into the stands on Brad Ausmus' grounder in the fourth.

Kent has six RBI in the last two games, giving him 98 on the
season, and Mike Lamb added his 13th homer for the Astros.

"You've got to play good baseball in September if you want to
get yourselves in the playoffs," Kent said. "Unless you're the
Cardinals, and then you just bury everybody."

Marquis (14-5) lost for the first time in 18 starts since May
26, giving up seven runs -- four earned -- on five hits in six
innings. His winning streak was the longest by a Cardinals pitcher
since John Tudor also won 11 straight decisions in 1985.

"Obviously, it would have been nice to keep it going," Marquis
said. "But it's one of those things where it's going to end
sometime and unfortunately it happened tonight."

Marquis hurt himself both in the field and on the bases. He
flubbed Lamb's high chopper to the mound in the third, allowing a
run to score, and settled for a single on a drive to the
center-field wall in the third after he missed the first-base bag.
The Cardinals ended up leaving the bases loaded.

Kent had a two-run double in the first on a bloop to shallow
center that a hard-charging Jim Edmonds trapped before the ball
popped out of his glove. A pair of walks by Marquis set the table
for Kent's RBI double in the third, and Luna's aborted relay handed
Houston another run for a 5-1 lead. Kent added a sacrifice fly in
the seventh.

Chad Harville (2-2) relieved Backe in the fifth after the
Cardinals put two men on with no outs. Harville induced Pujols into
a double play, then struck out Edmonds. The right-hander hasn't
allowed an earned run in his last 11 outings, covering 11 1-3
innings.

Mabry's home run in the fourth inning ended an 0-for-12 slump.

Game notes
La Russa managed his 3,943rd game, passing Gene Mauch for
fifth place on the career list. ... Kent has five four-RBI games
this season. ... The Astros went 4-4 on their road trip. ... Pujols
is 2-for-4 against Backe with two homers. ... Lance Berkman was
7-for-11 with three RBI in the series. ... St. Louis reliever
Julian Tavarez left with a leg cramp after striking out Berkman in
the ninth, but expects to be available on Friday.