HOUSTON — After failing to capitalize on a perfect opportunity to even the NL Wild Card race on Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals rallied from five runs down Tuesday, as Allen Craig, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto combined for 11 RBI, en route to a 13-6 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
St. Louis moved into a first-place tie for the NL Wild Card lead with the Atlanta Braves, who lost 7-1 against the Phillies on Tuesday.
Prior to accomplishing this feat, St. Louis put a major scare into themselves by falling behind 5-0 to Houston after three innings.
J.R. Towles broke a scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly to right in the second, while Brett Wallace added a two-run single and rookie Jimmy Paredes a two-run triple as part of a four-run third.
Houston knocked out Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, who allowed five earned runs on seven hits with one walk and two strikeouts over 2 1/3 innings in what turned out to be a no-decision effort.
Astros starter Henry Sosa began to unravel in the top of the fourth by allowing St. Louis to gain the momentum in a five-run inning.
He issued a leadoff walk to David Freese, but after striking out three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, the rookie began to see it slip away.
Ex-Astros standout Lance Berkman singled to center, and after an ugly wild pitch that enabled Freese and Berkman to advance to third and second, Sosa walked Craig to load the bases for catcher Yadier Molina, who connected for an RBI single.
Schumaker belted a three-run double to deep left-center to push Berkman, Craig and Molina across the plate to end Sosa’s night.
Astros manager Brad Mills turned the ball over to reliever David Carpenter and replaced Towles behind the plate with Humberto Quintero.
Carpenter yielded a single to Punto, and after walking Corey Patterson, Jon Jay hit a game-tying sacrifice fly to center to score Schumaker.
Sosa was charged with five earned runs on five hits with two walks and one strikeout over 62 pitches (34 for strikes) in 3 1/3 innings.
“It was sure nice to jump out quick like we did,” Mills said. “We always talked about shutdown innings. To walk that leadoff guy was kind of tough. Sosa really started having command problems in that fourth inning. The Cards were able to get it going.”
The Astros retook the lead 6-5 in the fifth when Paredes grounded into a double play against Marc Rzepczynski to score Wallace.
At this point, the game became a nail-biter, especially for St. Louis, as it became evident that the Braves would lose to the Phillies.
With that thought in the back of their heads, the Cardinals seized the chance to make the NL playoff race more exciting by exploding for four runs in the seventh, followed by three more in the eighth and an additional insurance run in the ninth.
St. Louis kick started their late-inning offensive outpour with two outs in the top of the seventh and Berkman in the batter’s box.
Berkman, who had three hits, singled to shallow left off Enerio Del Rosario and came around to score on Craig’s game-tying double.
After Del Rosario walked Molina, Mills went to Wesley Wright, which triggered Tony LaRussa to utilize Ryan Theriot as a pinch-hitter.
Theriot put the Cardinals ahead 8-6 with a two-run triple to deep right-center, with Punto following with an RBI double to left.
Although Jay was thrown out at second by right fielder Brian Bogusevic while trying to stretch a single into a double to start the eighth, Pujols reached on a two-out single and Berkman drew a walk to set the stage for Craig’s three-run homer to left.
Punto, who finished with four hits, chipped in a solo home run in the ninth to give St. Louis a 13-6 lead and new life in the playoff race.
“Some of those guys [Craig, Punto, Schumaker, Theriot] had some extra-base hits,” Mills said. “You kind of expect those guys to be table setters and get on base for the meat of the order. They did a little bit more than that by getting some big knocks.”
Right-hander Eduardo Sanchez (3-1) earned the victory with 1 1/3 scoreless innings, while Del Rosario (0-3) picked up the loss.
Ultimately, it comes down to the final regular-season game in order to determine the final outcome of the NL Wild Card race.
If the Cardinals and Braves both win their respective finales Wednesday, it would force a one-game playoff Thursday at Busch Stadium.
“Coming down to the last game of the season, it’s everybody,” Mills said. “Everybody is on board and wants to finish on a good note. We’ve got some pitchers that will be ready that want to pitch. With everybody, we’ll keep it going as much as we can.”
St. Louis will turn to three-time All-Star ace and 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.59 ERA) on Wednesday night, as he’ll take on Astros ace Brett Myers (7-13, 4.31 ERA) in what expects to be an impressive pitchers’ duel.
Myers is 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA in September.
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