Cardinals batter Backe to complete sweep

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Albert Pujols is sure the St. Louis Cardinals will start hitting soon.

Pujols hit a two-run homer and David Eckstein and Mark Grudzielanek each had three hits to help the Cardinals complete a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros with an 8-5 victory Sunday. The NL Central leaders have won nine of 10 without consistent offense, given the team's .243 batting average.

"I just think you guys take this too serious," Pujols said. "The season is just starting and you struggle here and there like we were early and it's, 'Oh man, what's wrong with the Cardinals?'

"It's too early, what did you expect? Just go out there and hit .500 right away as a team? No, this is the big leagues, this is not the minor leagues," he said.

The Cardinals have been off and on thus far, leaning more on consistent starting pitching than an overpowering lineup. On Saturday they won 1-0 in 10 innings, and three other times they've scored three or fewer runs.

Matt Morris (2-0) worked five effective innings in his second start since shoulder surgery for the Cardinals, who have won their last seven home games against the Astros -- including the 2004 NL Championship Series. St. Louis swept the Astros at home for the first time since May 21-23, 2002.

"These are big ones," Morris said. "A lot of times, the wins in April make the difference in September."

It was certainly momentous for manager Tony La Russa, who earned his 2,126th victory to break a tie with Joe McCarthy for fifth on the career list.

Jeff Bagwell had two RBI for the Astros, who are 1-8 on the road and 7-2 at home.

"It's ugly, it's really ugly," manager Phil Garner said. "We're going to have to bring in some snake oil and maybe do an exorcism."

The Cardinals battered Brandon Backe (1-1), who threw eight shutout innings against them in Game 5 of the NLCS, for eight runs and 13 hits in five innings. They were on him from the start with four extra-base hits in the first six at-bats during a four-run first, including Pujols' fifth homer and consecutive triples by Scott Rolen and Reggie Sanders.

"I felt fine, just had the ball up," Backe said. "That was it. It was up and those guys know how to hit."

Pujols' homer, a shot to straightaway center in the first, was estimated at 439 feet. Eckstein doubled twice and had two RBI, and Grudzielanek had three singles, scored twice and drove in a run.

Rolen had an RBI single in the second, Eckstein and Larry Walker
drove in runs in the third for a 6-2 lead and Eckstein got another run-scoring single in the fifth.

Morris gave up two runs and five hits with four strikeouts and one walk. In two starts since coming off the 15-day disabled list, the Cardinals' former ace has 11 strikeouts and two walks in 11 innings.

"The progress we've been making, there's no sense pushing it now," Morris said. "Throwing 91 pitches and to go out and tax myself when we have a bullpen that hasn't pitched in a couple days, it was the right move."

Jason Isringhausen got four outs for his seventh save in seven chances.

One of the runs off Morris was a gift, when Walker inexplicably stopped running after Bagwell's fly to right in the third and it fell in for a double. Bagwell, after a day off on Saturday, also had an RBI single in the first for Houston.

The Astros took advantage of wildness by seldom-used reliever Jimmy Journell and Eckstein's throwing error on a potential double-play ball for three runs in the sixth, cutting the gap to 8-5. Brad Ausmus walked with the bases loaded for the first run in the inning, and another run scored when Eckstein botched the relay to second on Willy Taveras' easy grounder.

Game notes
Astros left fielder Luke Scott was scratched from the lineup with a sore right shoulder, though he grounded out as a pinch-hitter to end the eighth. ... Sanders robbed Adam Everett of extra bases with a running catch near the left field corner in the third, slamming into the wall after making the grab. ... Pujols has reached base in 25 straight games dating to last season.