(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON -- J.A. Happ was determined to pitch better Monday night than he did in his last outing against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Houston lefty certainly accomplished his goal.
Happ threw a two-hitter and rookie Brett Wallace had a career-high three hits and drove in a run to help the Astros beat the Cardinals 3-0.
It was a complete turnaround from his last meeting with the Cardinals, when he allowed a career-high seven earned runs in just one-plus innings.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
It was another tough loss for the Cardinals, who have dropped six of seven and fallen six games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central race.
"It's not like there's just no hope," St. Louis shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "Even for me, I'm struggling as bad as I have ever struggled, but I still think every day I come to the field I am going to get a couple hits and help the team win. I don't know. It's just very frustrating."
Happ earned his fourth complete game and third shutout of his career. The Astros acquired the 27-year-old in the deal that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies last month. His last complete game was Aug. 27, 2009 against the Pirates, and his last shutout was Aug. 5 of the same year against the Rockies.
"It's been a while since I've felt that comfortable throwing first-pitch strikes and had that confidence, and I was just kind of feeding off that," Happ said. "They were putting the ball in play and we were making plays."
(David J. Phillip ~ Associated Press)
"He had everything working tonight," La Russa said. "We saw him pitch against Philadelphia, and he's a talented guy. Everything he threw, nothing over the middle, changed speeds, different breaks. It was an outstanding exhibition of pitching."
Happ (5-2), who hadn't gone longer than 6 1/3 innings this season, struck out four and walked one.
"After his last outing against these guys, I think he wanted to come back and really have a good game and he was almost even better than that. He was outstanding," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "I know he wanted to show himself and prove to himself more than anything else, and I think he did without a doubt."
The Astros took a 1-0 lead when Carlos Lee's bloop single drove in Hunter Pence during the first inning.
Wallace, who is batting just .215, hit an RBI double in the seventh that bounced low off the wall in left center field to score Chris Johnson and push Houston's lead to 2-0. Johnson singled to start the inning.
"I was excited to get a big hit for us," Wallace said. "I knew I probably got it over his head. So it's just exciting to contribute offensively for once."
The Astros added a run later in the inning when Wallace came home on Jason Castro's double-play grounder.
Randy Winn singled with one out in the first inning, but Albert Pujols grounded into a double play to end the inning. Colby Rasmus walked with no outs in the third before Happ retired the next 16 batters. Happ didn't allow another hit until Yadier Molina singled in the eighth.
Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook (1-3) allowed nine hits and three runs in seven innings.
* The Cardinals activated relief pitcher Jason Motte from the 15-day disabled list and optioned Allen Craig to Class AAA Memphis.