Simontacchi makes his case, keeps Cards on a roll

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- The last of the St. Louis Cardinals' stand-in starters made an impressive bid to stay in the rotation.

Jason Simontacchi pitched seven impressive innings as the Cardinals won for the 10th time in 12 games, beating the Houston Astros 3-1 Tuesday night.

It could be Simontacchi's last start, with Bud Smith perhaps ready to be recalled from Triple-A Memphis. Smith has allowed two runs on three hits in 13 innings after making his second minor league start on Tuesday.

Manager Tony La Russa was noncommittal.

"Enjoy the moment," La Russa said. "He's definitely done a lot to get the ball, but Bud pitched a one-hitter the last time he pitched, so it's a good problem to have."

Travis Smith and Josh Pearce also got starts for the Cardinals while their rotation was wounded by injuries to Woody Williams, Garrett Stephenson and Smith.

Simontacchi (2-0) allowed one run and five hits in his third career start, striking out four and walking two and lowering his ERA to 2.37. The 28-year-old rookie was pitching on 10 days' rest and held the heart of the Astros' order -- Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Daryle Ward -- to a single in eight at-bats.

"It's nice to make it a tough decision," Simontacchi said. "If you start worrying about stuff like that, it's going to overtake what you need to be doing up here. Whatever happens, happens."

The Cardinals won without Tino Martinez, sent home because of flu-like symptoms, and J.D. Drew, who's in a 1-for-15 slump and didn't start against left-hander Carlos Hernandez.

The Astros, who got three hits from Craig Biggio, have lost two straight after winning seven in a row.

"We didn't get a lot of hits and neither did they," manager Jimy Williams said. "But I guess they utilized theirs a little better than we did."

The game began a nine-game stretch in which the teams will face each other six times, and then not meet again until September. The Cardinals are 5-2 so far in the season series.

Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for his 11th save in 12 chances.

Placido Polanco, Fernando Vina and Mike Matheny each drove in a run for the Cardinals, who are 7-1 with two games to go on a 10-game homestand.

Matheny's run-scoring double in the sixth, which made it 3-1, ended a 1-for-20 slump and was his first RBI since May 3.

"I feel like I've been making tough outs, so I'm staying away from any statistics," Matheny said. "That kind of stuff can lead you into over-thinking and trying to make more adjustments than what you need to do."

Hernandez (4-2) retired the first nine batters before the Cardinals broke through in the fourth. Vina singled to start the inning and scored on Polanco's double.

"I thought I had everything working, but you have to give credit to their hitters," Hernandez said. "They hit the ball. They hit pretty good pitches for doubles."

Houston tied it in the fifth on Biggio's second double of the game.

"It's no secret that I'm struggling," Biggio said. "I'm trying to get more comfortable at the plate and maybe today was the start.

The Cardinals regained the in the bottom half on an RBI single by Vina. Miguel Cairo singled with two outs in the sixth and scored on Matheny's drive to right-center.

Notes: The Cardinals (24-21) are three games above .500 for the first time since April 17, when they were 9-6. ... The Astros are 13-9 at home and 8-14 on the road. ... Berkman is 3-for-24 against the Cardinals this year with three RBIs.

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