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05/05/07 12:17 AM ET

Astros fall in close one to Cards

Fifth inning costs Williams; offense stalls after fourth

ST. LOUIS -- While few would argue that the Astros lost their game with the Cardinals on Friday in the fifth inning, exactly which part did the most damage is up for debate.

Manager Phil Garner and right-hander Woody Williams did agree on one thing -- the events leading up to Albert Pujols' two-run double, rather than the double itself, led to this 3-2 defeat before a sellout crowd of 44,117 at Busch Stadium.

So which was the biggest blow? The choices: a) Preston Wilson's two-out walk with a runner on second and two outs, or b) Chris Duncan's single on the next play, which scored David Eckstein, cutting the Astros' lead to 2-1.

Garner's vote: the walk to Wilson.

"That was the ballgame," Garner said. "That was the one that hurt him. He pitched a beautiful ballgame to that point."

Not so fast, according to Williams.

"No, no chance," he said. "The pitch that hurt me was the pitch to Duncan, when I didn't bounce my curveball. I don't think [the walk to] Preston Wilson had anything to do with the outcome of this game. I felt more comfortable pitching to Duncan, and he hit a pitch I didn't want to throw. He did his job."

As did Pujols, who laced a curveball down the left-field line, just foul, before connecting with another curve that dropped in fair. Both runners scored, and that, coupled with the Astros' ineffectiveness against the struggling Adam Wainwright, was the ballgame.

In their first home game since they lost reliever Josh Hancock in a fatal car accident, the Cardinals recorded their first win since that tragedy. They snapped a five-game losing streak, while the Astros ended a modest two-game winning stretch.

It wasted another solid performance from the starting pitcher. Pitching on full rest but a day early after Chris Sampson came down with sinusitis, Williams came close to beating his old team, until one very notable old teammate prevented the right-hander from finally logging his first win as an Astro.

"You don't want to put [Pujols] in the position where he can hurt us," Garner said. "We put him in the position where he could hurt us. I don't think Woody made the pitch where he wanted to, but it doesn't matter. The point is it all happened prior to that. That's what happens sometimes."

Williams walked Pujols on four pitches in the first, but with runners on first and second in the fifth, Williams gave no consideration to pitching around him.

"It has to turn. If it doesn't, it's going to be one heck of a long year."
-- Craig Biggio

"He battled hard," Williams said. "It got to a 3-2 count, he battled a curveball up. I could have maybe tried a different pitch, but I'm not going to second-guess myself. He still put a pretty good swing on it. I threw my best pitch. He's a good hitter.

"I can't walk him to load the bases right there. I don't care what the score is. It's one of those things. It's not going my way right now."

Williams has made seven starts this year and turned in four quality outings. For his efforts, he has five losses and two no-decisions. The Astros are 1-6 in games he started.

Offense has been a problem, and not just when Williams pitches. The Astros bowed meekly to Wainwright, who had allowed 18 runs over his previous three outings, spanning 15 2/3 innings.

The Astros had a 2-0 lead after four. Carlos Lee's sacrifice fly drove in Morgan Ensberg in the first frame, and Luke Scott, who led off the fourth with a double, scored on a base hit by Humberto Quintero.

"I don't know what else to say about it," Garner said. "It's been a month now. We're just not putting any offense together."

"We're trying," Williams said. "Everybody's doing their work. It's just not happening. We have a better lineup than what we're showing right now, and everyone knows that. The bottom line is we just have to go out there and be consistent and put up good quality at-bats, good defense, good pitching and things will turn around."

Craig Biggio logged two hits to bring his career total to 2,959, 41 short of 3,000. He was stranded both times.

"You've got to keep working at it, and sooner or later the worm's going to turn," Biggio said. "It has to turn. If it doesn't, it's going to be one heck of a long year.

"Simply put, guys are working hard still and everybody's individually trying to fix it. We're just not getting it done."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.