HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman and Moises Alou had two RBIs apiece in a seven-run fifth inning as the Houston Astros beat St. Louis 9-3 Monday night to extend their lead in the NL Central to 5 1/2 games over the Cardinals.
Houston's magic number for clinching their fourth division title in five years is seven. The Cardinals are the only other team to win the NL Central in that span, doing it last season. St. Louis has lost two straight after a nine-game winning streak.
Dave Mlicki (7-1), who went 4-8 with Detroit before being traded to Houston, has turned his season around with the Astros. He allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings to win his third straight decision.
Mlicki shut out the Cardinals through five innings before Jose Vina led off the sixth with a homer and Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer later in the inning, ending a string of 14 scoreless inning for Mlicki.
The Astros scored six of their seven runs in the fifth inning after two outs. Richard Hidalgo led off with a solo homer off Matt Morris (20-8). Hidalgo also had a single in the inning.
Brad Ausmus singled and was sacrificed to second by Mlicki before Craig Biggio singled and Jose Vizcaino walked to load the bases.
With two outs, Berkman hit a two-run single and Alou followed with a two-run double knocking out Morris. Vinny Castilla added an RBI single off and Mike Timlin also balked in a run.
The Cardinals juggled their rotation to have Morris pitch twice down the stretch against the Astros. But the move backfired as Morris allowed eight runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings to end an eight-game winning streak.
The Astros took a 2-0 lead in the third on an RBI double by Biggio and a run-scoring grounder by Vizcaino.
NOTE: Alou became the third Astros hitter to have back to back 100 RBI seasons. The others were Bob Watson 1976-77 and Bagwell 1996-2001.