Albert Pujols backs Chris Carpenter as Cardinals double up Astros

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols wasted little time in helping the St. Louis Cardinals erase a painful memory.

Pujols hit a three-run homer and Chris Carpenter slowed the Houston bats in the St. Louis Cardinals' 8-4 victory over the Astros on Wednesday night.

Houston embarrassed St. Louis 18-4 on Tuesday in a game Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa said was, "agonizing," to watch.

Just 24 hours later, the Cardinals pushed across four runs in the first inning and added three in the second to get right back into the swing of things.

"If you have a bad game, you've got to keep your head up," Pujols said. "It's a six month season."

Pujols connected on a 3-2 pitch from J.A. Happ and put it over the left-field wall in the second inning for his 27th home run of the season and 393rd of his career. He has homered in three of his last four games and moved into a tie with Cincinnati's Joey Votto for the NL lead in home runs.

"I'm feeling right now, the same way I've been feeling all year long," said Pujols, who went 7-for-14 in the series. "Right now, it's important becasue every win counts. You don't have that many games left. It's not like it's Opening Day."

Pujols, who had three hits, knocked Happ out of the game with his homer. Happ, in his second start for Houston since being acquired from Philadelphia on July 29, gave up six hits and seven earned runs in one inning.

Carpenter (12-3) allowed just two runs on four hits over 7 1/3 innings in improving to 9-2 at Busch Stadium this season. He struck out three, walked three, and also drove in the final run during a four-run outburst in the first inning.

Carpenter improved to 3-0 with 1.64 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break.

"We came out aggressive offensively and put a bunch of runs on the board, which is nice," Carpenter said. "Nice game, good effort."

Houston, had won seven in a row and had outscored the opposition 57-12 during its season-best winning streak. The Astros outscored St. Louis 27-8 in winning the first two games of the series.

St. Louis batted around in the opening inning against Happ (2-1). Five of the first six hitters reached base.

Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and Carpenter all had run-scoring hits. Felipe Lopez began the inning with a single and moved to third on a ground-rule double by Pujols before three successive hits each plated a run. Carpenter's two-out single up the middle brought in Craig.

Lopez and Colby Rasmus drew walks in the second to set the stage for Pujols' home run.

Happ went to a three-ball count on six of the 12 batters he faced.

"I was leaving the ball up in the zone and that's not me," Happ said. "For some reason, I didn't have it tonight."

Houston manager Brad Mills said Happ threw too many balls up in the zone.

"It just didn't seem like he was able to make adjustments," Mills said.

Chris Johnson hit a two-run homer in the second inning for Houston, which had won six successive games in St. Louis. It was the fifth homer of the season for Johnson, who has 11 RBI in his last six games.

Jason Castro and Geoff Blum drove in ninth-inning runs for Houston.

Game notes
Boxing promoter Don King threw out the first pitch. King is in St. Louis to promote Saturday's WBC/IBF Junior Welterweight title bout between champion Devon Alexander and challenger Andriy Kotelnik. ... Houston, which fell to 13-4 on Wednesday's, had won its last 12 games on that day. ... Houston OF Hunter Pence has hit safely in 21 of his last 23 games. ... St. Louis pitcher Kyle Lohse will make what could be his final rehab start on Thursday at Double-A Springfield, Mo. Lohse has been on the disabled list since May 27 with a right forearm strain. ... Houston OF Michael Bourn was hit on the foot by a pitch in the third inning but stayed in the game. ... Pujols was 7-for-14 in the series.