Houston's three-game winning steak ends

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Jason Marquis remained calm, even as his seven-run lead all but evaporated.

So Taguchi and Mark Grudzielanek each hit a two-run double, and the St. Louis Cardinals' previously untouchable bullpen withstood a mid-game meltdown before holding on for an 8-7 victory over the Houston Astros on Friday night.

"It was not too bad," Marquis said. "Obviously, we had a big enough cushion in case something like what happened, happened."

Marquis (3-0) had two hits and scored twice for the Cardinals, who have won seven of eight. But he labored through 5 2/3 innings, striking out eight and throwing 108 pitches. After leading 8-1 in the sixth, St. Louis needed four relievers to end the Astros' three-game winning streak while Marquis watched helplessly.

"I was just thinking back on pitches I could have made and should have made," Marquis said. "You've got to take these wins as they come."

The Cardinals' bullpen hadn't allowed a run in 17 1/3 innings over a nine-game span and entered this three-game series with a 3.34 ERA. St. Louis used four pitchers in the Astros' five-run sixth, when Randy Flores hit the only batter he faced with a pitch and Al Reyes gave up a three-run double to Adam Everett before Julian Tavarez got Jason Lane on a force play with the bases loaded to end the inning.

"It's frustrating to battle back from that far down and not win," Lane said. "It showed a lot that we just didn't roll over after they got that big lead."

In the seventh, Tavarez gave up a home run to Morgan Ensberg that narrowed the gap to 8-7. Then Tavarez settled down, retiring six of the next eight hitters.

"I stopped the team from bleeding," Tavarez said. "That's one thing that really makes me happy, coming out of the bullpen and getting the job done."

Jason Isringhausen worked a scoreless ninth for his sixth save in six chances.

Astros starter Brandon Duckworth (0-1) walked three and had a throwing error in the Cardinals' five-run second. Taguchi had a two-run double and scored on Yadier Molina's slow roller down the third base line when Duckworth slipped on the wet grass and threw well wide of first base for a hit and an error.

"He dug his own grave, really," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "The first time he got in trouble he walked two hitters. That hurt and the momentum shifted."

Grudzielanek's two-run double plus a sacrifice fly by Jim Edmonds in the fourth made it 8-1.

The Astros benefited from three walks and two hit batters in the sixth, with Willy Taveras' two-run single chasing Marquis. He was charged with five runs and seven hits, but he won his third straight start.

Duckworth, making his second start of the season, allowed eight runs and eight hits in four innings with four walks and no strikeouts.

"Tonight wasn't indicative of what I can do," Duckworth said. "You have to move on and keep on battling. I put us behind the 8-ball."

Game notes
Cardinals pitchers hadn't allowed more than one run in an inning for five straight games. ... Ensberg, who had been 4-for-4 against Marquis, struck out in all three at-bats against the right-hander. ... First baseman Albert Pujols made a nifty scoop of Tavarez's hurried one-bounce throw on Taveras' sacrifice bunt in the seventh and then got clipped on his left foot when Taveras crossed the bag. He limped around for a few seconds but stayed in the game. ... Lane was 0-for-4 with a walk after going 10-for-20 his previous four games. ... The Cardinals had homered in 10 straight games. ... Everett drove in three runs for the first time since July 24, 2004, at Arizona.