Cardinals snap five-game skid vs. Astros

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- With one big swing, Albert Pujols reached
another milestone and kept the St. Louis Cardinals' faint playoff
hopes alive.

Pujols homered in the 13th inning, his second game-winning shot
of the year, for a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday.
He has 114 career homers, tied with Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner
(1946-48) for the most in a player's first three seasons.

"You're talking about records that were sitting there for a
long time," Pujols said. "It's a blast. I didn't try to hit the
ball out of the park, I just tried to put a good swing on it, and
look what happens."

The Astros lead the NL Central by 1½ games over the Chicago
Cubs, who lost 8-2 at Pittsburgh, and five over the Cardinals. St.
Louis has six games to go, including the series finale against
Houston on Sunday.

"We know what the magic number is," manager Tony La Russa
said. "We take pride in being competitors."

Astros manager Jimy Williams didn't know what to say.

"I think you're just going to have to write what you saw
because it was really a heck of a game," Williams told reporters.
"You're going to have to write this story on your own."

Fernando Vina had three hits and a walk for the Cardinals, who
snapped a five-game losing streak against the Astros. They had lost
the previous four by a combined score of 28-7.

Jason Simontacchi (9-5) allowed two walks and struck out one in
two innings.

The Cardinals left eight runners on base in extra innings -- four
reached on intentional walks. The Astros went to a five-man infield
with the bases loaded and one out in the 12th and Joe Girardi
grounded out to center fielder Craig Biggio, playing on the grass
in front of second base.

Biggio threw home for the force.

"You have to roll the dice," Biggio said. "Sometimes it works
out, sometimes it doesn't. There's no right way or wrong way, you
play the hand out and see what happens."

Pujols ended it with his 43rd homer, lining an 0-1 pitch from
Dan Miceli (1-3) over the left-field wall with one out in the 13th.
Pujols beat the Padres with a two-run shot in the 11th inning on
July 12.

He leads the majors with a .364 average, and earlier this year
became the first player in major league history to get 30 homers,
100 RBI and score 100 runs in his first three seasons.

"A guy like Albert, he's eventually going to get you," Astros
catcher Brad Ausmus said. "We were lucky he hadn't hurt us up to
that point."

Even though the Cardinals are virtually out of the race, Pujols
was just as elated as he was after his game-ending drive in July.

"You're talking about the game-winning RBI," Pujols said.
"The fans, that's why they come, they want you to win.

"After they've been sitting there for a while, I think it was
pretty special for them."

Astros starter Tim Redding lasted five innings, giving up one
run on four hits. He was 1-1 with a 1.88 ERA in five starts against
the Cardinals this year, and beat St. Louis in his last start.

Brett Tomko allowed two runs in six innings for the Cardinals,
continuing a late-season surge. His overall ERA is 5.19, but in his
last three starts he has a 2.35 ERA.

The Astros took the lead in the third on Jeff Kent's two-run
single, one of four hits in the inning. Tomko escaped further
damage when he struck out Ausmus with the bases loaded for the
final out.

Tomko reached on a third-strike wild pitch to start the bottom
of the third and scored on J.D. Drew's two-out single.

The Cardinals tied it in the sixth. Edgar Renteria doubled with
one out and scored when pinch-hitter Eduardo Perez's two-out
grounder up the middle rolled between Kent's legs at second base
for an error.

Game notes
St. Louis' Scott Rolen stranded seven runners his first
three-bats. His last day off was July 6. ... Astros 3B Geoff Blum
made two nice defensive stops in the first inning, snaring Eli
Marrero's liner and Pujols' smash. ... Orlando Merced singled in
his 65th pinch-hit at-bat in the seventh, tying a club record set
by Ken Boswell in 1976 and tied by Dave Clark in 1998. Merced is
13-for-65 (.200) in that role with one homer and eight RBI.