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Astros complete sweep of Cards

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cardinals base runner Yadier Molina is tagged out at the plate by Astros catcher Humberto Quintero during the eighth inning Thursday in St. Louis.
(JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)
ST. LOUIS -- Bud Norris has been so dazzling against the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols referred to him as Chuck Norris earlier this week.

It seemed more of a compliment than slip of the tongue, especially after the 25-year-old righty kicked sand in the Cardinals' faces once again. This time, he pitched the Houston Astros to a 4-1 win Thursday for a three-game sweep.

Norris is 4-0 and has allowed one earned run in 28 career innings against St. Louis.

"I've been lucky enough to have four good starts against these guys, and I just hope to keep going," Norris said. "I know what I'm capable of when I do it right."

The Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick thought Norris' fastball gained velocity as the game progressed.

"He's pitched lights out every time against us," Ludwick said. "All of a sudden it was 95 and 96 and you could see the confidence building."

Hunter Pence hit a three-run home run for Houston, which posted its first sweep in St. Louis since taking a three-game series in April 2004. The Cardinals have lost seven of nine.

Houston's Lance Berkman extended his streak of reaching base to nine in a row with a double and two singles before grounding out in the eighth.

"I knew I hadn't made any outs but I didn't give it a whole lot of thought," Berkman said. "I knew I would make another one eventually, so I wasn't worried about it.

"I was hitting .190 coming in so I expected at some point I was going to get some hits."

Norris (2-4) struck out eight and walked none in eight innings. He gave up one run and six hits. His ERA against St. Louis is 0.35 but he's 8-7 with a 5.10 ERA overall during his career.

"I think it's a very short time before we expect it from Bud all the time, with the stuff that he has," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "He just threw the ball great."

Norris had lost three straight starts entering Thursday's game, allowing 16 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. Norris thrived under a different catcher, Humberto Quintero.

The Astros scored all four runs in the third, perhaps taking advantage of Chris Carpenter's temper. Carpenter (4-1) and Carlos Lee had a staredown and then exchanged words after Lee popped out with two runners on base, leading to both benches and bullpens streaming onto the field, although nothing got overheated.

Lee said he yelled in frustration but not at Carpenter, and noted that Carpenter had been vocal after Berkman's RBI single the previous at-bat.

"I guess he's allowed to yell and say anything he wants because when Lance got that hit he was screaming and yelling and saying all kinds of stuff," Lee said. "He can get emotional and we can't get emotional as hitters?"

Carpenter blamed Lee for the rabble-rousing.

"I guess it's turned into we're all supposed to be best friends in this game," the pitcher said. "I said something, he said something. He kept coming at it. He's the one that caused everyone to come out, not me."

Pence was next up with two outs, and he hit his fifth homer to put Houston ahead 4-0. Pence thought the long inning for Carpenter helped more than lingering emotions.

"To be honest," Pence said, "it felt like the only pitch he threw me over the plate all day."

Berkman matched a career best by reaching in nine straight plate appearances. He had two homers during the streak, which fell four shy of the franchise record of 13 set by Bill Spiers in 1997.

Matt Holliday's RBI single in the seventh ended Norris' string of 24 innings without allowing an earned run against St. Louis. Pujols ran through third base coach Jose Oquendo's stop sign to score the run.

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