ST. LOUIS (AP) -- With his team leading by a run in the bottom of the 13th inning, Houston reliever Chad Harville decided to challenge Albert Pujols.
Not a good idea.Pujols deposited Harville's full-count fastball into the Astros' bullpen for his 23rd home run, a two-run shot that gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-3 victory over Houston on Friday night.Still, Harville said he had no regrets."In that situation, I'm going to challenge him," he said. "He got me."Mike Lamb had given the Astros a 3-2 lead in the top of the 13th with an RBI single.David Eckstein walked to lead off the bottom of the inning. After Russ Springer struck out Jim Edmonds, Harville (0-1) was brought in to get his first save of the season and second of his career.Houston manager Phil Garner said he made the decision to go to Harville because Springer had been getting the ball up and was falling behind hitters."I was afraid of the same thing happening," Garner said.As for Pujols, he said it didn't matter who he faced."It's like I always tell you guys, I don't care about numbers [against pitchers]," he said. "You can do a lot of damage with one at-bat. I did that tonight."St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was not expecting Pujols' heroics."Because the pitching was so good, you figured you'd win on a bloop," La Russa said. "I was hoping for a bloop hit, and he hits it out of the park."Pujols thought he may have simply hit a long out."I knew I hit it pretty good," Pujols said. "But I thought the wind might have caught it. I'm just glad it went out."Lamb, who tied the game in the ninth with a sacrifice fly, singled off left-hander Ray King, who was brought in to face the left-handed hitter, to give the Astros their first lead, 3-2."That was our game to win and we didn't do it," Garner said.Brad Thompson (1-0) relieved King and got the final out to pick up his first major-league win.Houston lost for the second time in nine games and fell 12½ games behind the first-place Cardinals, who are 27-9 against the NL Central.Cardinals left fielder Reggie Sanders left the game with two outs in the first inning after he collided with center fielder Edmonds while catching Craig Biggio's flyball in the gap. Sanders sustained a bruised left rib and a slight right ankle sprain on the play. He was replaced by Larry Walker.Einar Diaz hit his first home run as a Cardinal leading off the eighth against reliever Chad Qualls to break a 1-1 tie.But closer Jason Isringhausen blew his third save in 28 chances, allowing Lamb's game-tying sac fly with one out in the ninth.St. Louis took a 1-0 lead when Mark Grudzielanek, who went 3-for-4, homered to left off Astros starter Andy Pettitte with one out in the second.That was all the Cardinals could manage off Pettitte, who retired 13 of the next 15 batters. Pettitte lasted seven innings and allowed four hits, while striking out three and walking three.Houston tied the game 1-1 in the fifth on two infield hits, a bloop single and a wild pitch by Cardinals starter Mark Mulder.With one out, Chris Burke reached on a bunt single. He advanced to second on Adam Everett's pop fly to shallow right that just eluded Pujols, the first baseman. The Astros loaded the bases on Willy Taveras' major league-leading 43rd infield hit, a swinging bunt down the third base line. Burke scored when Mulder's pitch in the dirt eluded Diaz.Mulder allowed eight hits in continuing his dominance over the Astros at Busch Stadium, where he has allowed one run in 18 innings against Houston this season. On April 23, Mulder shut out the Astros for 10 innings when he outpitched Roger Clemens for a 1-0 win.
Taveras needs seven infield hits to tie Biggio's club record for a season. ... Grudzielanek's home run was just his sixth hit this month. ... Pettitte has pitched at least six innings in 15 of his 17 starts. ... Walker is batting .328 at home (35-for-107) compared to .214 (24-for-112) on the road. ... Houston has lost seven of nine to St. Louis. ... Mulder has allowed just one run in his last 17 innings.