Norris' streak snapped in Astros' loss
Offense shut down by Cards' Wainwright over eight innings
HOUSTON -- Hidden in the depths of Bud Norris' first career loss to St. Louis on Friday night was another stretch of dominating baseball against the Cardinals.
Norris had not lost to the Cardinals in his four previous starts against them, and he was once again plowing his way through their lineup with efficiency and ease. That all changed in the eighth inning, when Matt Holliday hit a three-run homer to help St. Louis to an 8-0 win at Minute Maid Park.
"I had confidence in my stuff, and to go out there and locate the ball is always going to help your outcome, but one pitch to a great hitter in that last inning kind of hurt me," said Norris, who was 4-0 with a 0.35 ERA in four career starts against St. Louis prior to Friday.
Norris (2-6) gave up a run in the first and second innings before sending down 18 of 19 batters, including 13 in a row during one stretch, but he couldn't get the last out of the eighth inning. Not that it mattered too much, considering Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright was terrific.
Wainwright (13-5) pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing six hits, to improve to 9-1 with a 1.56 ERA in his career against the Astros. Houston was shut out for the ninth time this season -- sixth at Minute Maid Park -- and had only two runners reach third base.
"He's really good at throwing strikes without throwing the ball over the plate," Astros first baseman Lance Berkman said. "His location is outstanding. He's got an arsenal that's not just fastball, curveball. He's got a great slider and decent changeup. He was game. Every time we've ever faced him he's very stingy. To me, if he's not the best pitcher in the National League, he's in the top three."
Norris was making his third start since returning from a monthlong stint on the disabled list. He led all Major League starters in strikeouts per nine innings (10.51) entering the game, and struck out four Cardinals. He recorded 10 groundball outs, which helped his efficiency.
"It took him those first couple of innings to get everything going, and once he got it going, he was really clicking," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "I thought he and [catcher] Jason [Castro] again were working really good, and it just fell apart for him in the eighth. He was still throwing the ball well, but he left it over the plate too much."
Back-to-back doubles by Colby Rasmus and Albert Pujols allowed the Cardinals to take a 1-0 lead in the first, and Skip Schumaker had an RBI single in the second to make it 2-0. The Cardinals didn't manage anything else offensively against Norris until Rasmus doubled with two outs in the eighth.
Mills chose to intentionally walk Pujols to face Holliday, who was hitless in his first three at-bats. Holliday ran the count to 2-1 before crushing a fastball and sending it 400 feet over the left-center-field wall to put the Cardinals ahead, 5-0.
"He made a mistake, but he didn't make too many," Pujols said. "We scored a couple of runs early, and he shut us down. He pretty much didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning. He's pretty tough, but we took a different game plan today, and we executed that. Obviously we took advantage of the mistake he made."
It was hard to quarrel with Mills' decision to keep Norris in the game in the eighth, or to walk Pujols and face Holliday. It was the first time this year Holliday followed a Pujols intentional walk with a home run.
"He was still throwing the ball really well," Mills said of Norris. "There was no doubt that was the right thing to do to keep in the game. He had handled Holliday like he had, and he had thrown well going into that inning. Just getting one more out, that was the tough thing."
Pujols got another chance to hit in the ninth and left his mark by hitting a 415-foot homer to left-center, a two-run shot, off Casey Daigle to cap the scoring. It was Pujols' sixth homer in his last 11 games.
"It was a great ballgame until they broke it open late," Berkman said. "I thought Bud pitched really well and pretty much kept us in the game against a pitcher and a good ballclub. We got beat tonight."
The Astros were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and had only two meaty scoring threats. Chris Johnson struck out to end the fourth and strand runners at first and third, and Carlos Lee flied out to end the eighth and strand runners at first and second.
"This is not one of those losses where you sit there and kick yourself like we did in San Diego [last weekend] when we had kinds of chances to win and didn't do it," Berkman said. "Tonight, we just got beat."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.