Albers, Astros shut down Cards
Righty tosses 7 1/3 scoreless innings; Pence hits grand slam
ST. LOUIS -- Coming off his shortest and most unproductive start of his career, Matt Albers appeared to be completely undaunted by the Cardinals' very experienced lineup on Saturday.
The laid-back, even-keeled rookie right-hander logged his first Major League win in dominating fashion, holding the Cardinals to three hits over 7 1/3 innings in a 13-0 shutout win. Before 44,881 fans at Busch Stadium, Albers turned in a nearly flawless performance, baffling the Cardinals, who had only two baserunners advance past first base all day.
"That was a nice job," manager Phil Garner said. "You always worry about kids coming off a rough outing. You try to do something different, try to over throw it. He didn't look like he tried to overthrow at all today."
Albers, who lasted only 2 1/3 innings in his start against the Reds last Tuesday, had a complete reversal of fortune this time. Pitching on short rest, he blew through the Cardinals lineup with few hiccups. Even the league's most feared hitter, Albert Pujols, couldn't touch the 24-year-old rookie.
Pujols struck out in the first inning, grounded to second and flew to center in the sixth while facing Albers.
Undeterred by his last outing, Albers admitted he felt a bit more relaxed and slightly more locked in.
"I'm not sure for what reason," he said. "I took a deep breath in between pitches and just made the pitch."
The result was Albers' first Major League win, in his sixth big-league start. The win was pretty much sealed after Carlos Lee cleared the bases with a three-run double in the fifth that put the Astros ahead by six, but it became official, at least to Albers, when catcher Brad Ausmus handed him the game ball as the team went through the routine high-five procession.
"I wasn't too worried," Albers said about waiting for his first win. "I figured if I was pitching well, a win would eventually come. I'm just glad I pitched well, going deep in the game and gave the team a chance to win."
The Astros scored 13 runs, piling on the runs against five Cardinals pitchers. Still, that hitting attack, which also included Hunter Pence's first career homer -- a grand slam in the eighth inning -- didn't take away from how focused Albers remained on his end.
"The guy has phenomenal stuff," Morgan Ensberg said. "He's done a great job of throwing. Today, you really saw his sinker working really well and he was able to mix in his slider. And I didn't realize how good his changeup is.
"He really went after the strikezone and really did well against a very experienced team. A team like that, they have a lot of experience. They know what they're doing. They obviously are well-prepared. The fact that he can go out there and have such a great game is really a testament to what type of stuff Matt has."
"He was just mowing them down and throwing real quality strikes," Mark Loretta said. "They were taking some swings that you don't usually see them take, so that's telling you he had a lot of movement. It was his day. That really set the tone. Yeah, we scored 13 runs but we didn't need that many today."
But considering how much the Astros have struggled so far this year, they welcomed a good old-fashioned blowout.
The offense had a field day against Houston native Kip Wells. Ensberg, hitting in the leadoff spot for the first time in his career, was 2-for-5, while Loretta, subbing for the resting Craig Biggio at second, was 4-for-5 with three singles and a double.
Luke Scott also recorded a multihit game, logging two doubles while driving in two.
"One great byproduct is that guys get to relax a little bit," Ensberg said. "The bullpen doesn't have to feel like they're directly in the fire. Matt Albers is throwing an absolutely incredible game. We got on base and then guys have some really great at-bats. Mark gets four hits again, so baseball's hard for that guy. You just saw a really good game for us today, and it really allowed guys to really relax."
Pence was 0-for-4 until the eighth, when he knocked a grand slam off Dennis Dove that landed in the Astros' bullpen in left-center.
"It was just a fastball up and away, I think," Pence said. "I was trying to be short to the ball, because I kept getting jammed. I happened to find a good piece of the bat."
Stranding baserunners has been a bit of a problem for the Astros this year, but such was not the case Saturday. Houston was 8-for-17 with runners in scoring position.
"We've had our struggles, so certainly today we got good results," Garner said. "We got guys on with good results. It was good that our big guys drove in some runs today, too."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.