Cardinals rip Astros in opener of series

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The Cardinals' Colby Rasmus, right, is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina after hitting a two-run home run against the Astros during the fifth inning Monday in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

Molina, Rasmus hit home runs for St. Louis in a 10-5 victory

ST. LOUIS -- Known for his game-managing and defensive skills, Yadier Molina made another statement with his bat.

The St. Louis Cardinals' slow-footed catcher was a triple shy of the cycle for the second time in three games and homered for the third straight game, helping Kyle McClellan end an eight-game victory drought in the St. Louis Cardinals' 10-5 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.

Molina has eight three-hit games, tied for the major league lead at his position. After getting a rare day off, he doubled in the second, homered in the fourth and hit an RBI single in the fifth. He didn't play Sunday and has three days off this month.

"Sometimes it helps," Molina said. "This heat can wear you out, and sometimes you take a day off, you feel good the next day."

Houston Astros' Hunter Pence reacts after he was tagged out trying to steal second base during the third inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, July 25, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Trailing 8-1, Carlos Lee made it interesting with his 16th career grand slam in the eighth off P.J. Walters, cutting the gap to three runs before St. Louis answered with two runs. He's tied for ninth on the career list for grand slams with Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Dave Kingman and second on the active list, trailing only Alex Rodriguez' 21.

Lee is 2 for 2 against Walters, both grand slams, also connecting July 21, 2009 in Houston.

"I didn't know that. For real?" Lee said. "That's crazy, but that's the game."

The Astros' Hunter Pence suffered his second fielding gaffe in as many games, handing Nick Punto a gift RBI triple in the second after misjudging a routine fly, appearing to lose the ball in the lights and then stumbling. It wasn't clear whether new turf, replaced after a U2 concert eight days earlier, played a role.

"We'll deal with it," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "We're not thrilled with it. You want the sure footing and so forth, but it wasn't there. And it cost us a little bit."

Cardinals starter Kyle McClellan delivers a pitch to an Astros batter during the second inning.

Center fielder Michael Bourn also wasn't happy, saying he had some slips.

"I didn't have a clue," Bourn said. "It's hard to keep your feet under you."

La Russa said there were no complaints from his players. Center fielder Colby Rasmus made one of the top plays, going airborne to rob Jose Altuve of extra bases to end the eighth.

"It was definitely playable," La Russa said. "Too often it happens in the second half of the season, whether you have a concert or not. It's hot and it's hard."

Rasmus, the Cardinals' player mentioned most in rumors heading into the trade deadline, homered for the second straight day with three RBIs.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the Astros during the fourth inning Monday in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

Molina has three career triples in 897 career at-bats and missed his only shot for the cycle when he took a called third strike from Mark Melancon in the eighth. He's 6 for 12 with two homers and five RBIs his last three games and his eighth homer, matching his career single-season best from 2005, came in the fourth off J.A. Happ (4-12).

Four of Molina's homers have come this month.

McClellan (7-6) was the first National League pitcher to get to six victories after working eight strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the Astros at home May 19 and finally made it to No. 7 after working seven strong innings. The right-hander had been 0-4 with a 5.48 ERA over the previous seven starts, all St. Louis losses.

The first-year starter allowed one run on six hits and walked none. He has won all three of his outings against the Astros.

Happ surrendered five or more runs for the sixth straight start and has given up five or more runs in half of his eight career starts against the Cardinals. He's lost all four starts against St. Louis this year and is 1-7 with a 8.02 ERA on the road this season.

St. Louis Cardinals' Colby Rasmus, right, is congratulated by teammate Yadier Molina after hitting a two-run home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros Monday, July 25, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

"He was throwing a lot more strikes and that's definitely moving in the right direction," Mills said.

Pence leads the National League with nine assists and was the Astros' lone All-Star, but he has struggled lately.

On Sunday, Pence said he was blinded by the sun on Marlon Byrd's leadoff triple, which should have been a routine play in the 10th inning of the Cubs' 5-4 victory. He came in on Punto's fly ball, then appeared blinded by lights on a hit that put St. Louis up 2-1.

In the eighth, Pence apparently believed he had caught Ryan Theriot's fly ball for the third out, running several steps before finally throwing late to third as Punto took the extra base.

Punto scored on what appeared to be a busted squeeze play. He was halfway down the line when McClellan swung away and grounded out to second for an RBI that made it 3-1.

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