08/02/09 6:50 PM ET
Norris' gem in first start gives Astros lift
Rookie dominates Cards over seven scoreless innings
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
The fresh-faced, fast-talking California kid with the electric arm owned the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in his first Major League start, throwing seven scoreless innings and getting a hit in his first at-bat to lead the Astros to a 2-0 win.
Norris, pitching in his second big league game, carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright broke it up with a leadoff single. He walked four batters and struck out five while throwing 91 pitches.
"I haven't had a chance to let it soak in yet, but it's probably No. 1," said Norris, when asked by reporters where Sunday ranked among the best thrills of his young life.
Norris, 24, certainly injected some life into the aging and injury-riddled Astros, who snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Wainwright, a 12-game winner. Houston finished 2-5 on its pivotal road trip to divisional rivals Chicago and St. Louis.
"We needed a win in the worst way, and the kid gave us a big lift," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said.
With Ivan Rodriguez, baseball's all-time leader in games caught, guiding him through each pitch, Norris kept the ball down in the strike zone while mixing his slider, changeup and powerful fastball. He retired 16 of the first 18 batters he faced.
"He wasn't nervous at all," Rodriguez said. "He has an idea of what he's doing. We were together for a little bit before the game and talked about what we're going to do, and it was what you saw today. He just kept the ball down and threw strikes to both sides of the plate."
Norris, who made his Major League debut four days earlier in Chicago, certainly didn't look nervous in front of a sellout crowd of 45,227 that included his parents, sister, cousin and a family friend. He struck out the first batter he faced, Skip Schumaker.
"Once I got in the dugout and watched the first half [inning], I settled down, and when I went out there and threw my warmup pitches, it felt like another day," he said.
But facing a lineup that included Albert Pujols and red-hot Matt Holliday is anything but ordinary. The duo went a combined 0-for-7 in the game, including 0-for-5 against Norris.
"You look at the catcher's glove, that's all you can really do," Norris said. "If you can make your pitch, you can get anybody out, and that was the biggest key."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was impressed.
"You have to give credit to Norris," he said. "We knew he had a good arm, but he was real consistent and made a lot of good pitches. He has a good arm, and you can see why they like him."
Jose Valverde earned his 12th save by throwing a season-high 1 2/3 innings. He came on in the eighth with a runner at first base and one out and got an inning-ending double play when Pujols struck out and Colby Rasmus was caught stealing.
"When I struck Pujols out and saw the guy was out at second base, I said 'Thank you,'" said Valverde, who delivered the game ball to Norris moments after the game.
The Astros got the only runs they needed on an RBI infield hit by Miguel Tejada in the fourth and an RBI double by Michael Bourn in the seventh. Tejada (2-for-3) was hit on the hand by a pitch in the eighth and finished the game despite some swelling.
"That's what we needed here," Tejada said. "We need a young guy that can throw hard. He knows how to pitch, and we're going to be a much better team. We have more power in the starting pitching."
Norris wasn't tested until the sixth. With runners at first and second and one out, he got Pujols to pop out on a 2-0 pitch before striking out Holliday swinging on a 92-mph fastball.
He got another big inning-ending strikeout in the seventh, when he got pinch-hitter Joe Thurston swinging after falling behind, 3-0, stranding runners at first and third.
"If the score was different and he hadn't worked so hard in the sixth and seventh, he would have went out in the eighth, because his stuff was pretty good," Cooper said. "We had a chance to mix and match in the eighth, and I went to Valverde as soon as I could."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.