HOUSTON • An offense that strikes out a season-high 14 times, nine of them called third strikes, certainly sounds futile enough. Everybody in the Cardinals’ starting lineup but Jon Jay whiffed at least once. And the pitcher wasn’t even hitting in this interleague game.
But the Cardinals did some serious damage on the balls they actually swung at as they pounded the Houston Astros, 13-5, Tuesday night, stopping their longest losing streak (tied) of the season at three games.
That latest streak was administered by Texas’ other big-league team, the Texas Rangers, over the weekend in St. Louis.
The Astros, like the Rangers now in the American League, weren’t quite as sticky, but Matheny said he did not put too much stock in what happened on the weekend although he did call a brief meeting before Tuesday’s game.
“It’s pretty hard to make too much out of a weekend when you look at a whole season and what our offense has been able to do,” he said. “I don’t think guys read anything into that at all.”
After being blanked for three innings, the Cardinals drew three key walks in the fourth (all scored) and Matt Carpenter, an area high school star here, cracked a three-run triple to highlight a seven-run inning.
Matheny did some lineup juggling on Tuesday but one spot he did not switch was his cleanup man. Allen Craig is doing fine.
Craig, enjoying a four-hit night, including his seventh homer, drove in three runs, giving him 61 in the Cardinals’ 77 games.
Matheny, who moved Matt Holliday from No. 3 to No. 5, said he didn’t feel any inclination to tinker with the No. 4 spot, especially with the cleanup hitter he has. “It’s not one to fool around with too much,” said Matheny.
Carlos Beltran (No. 18) and David Freese (No. 5) each belted a two-run homer and righthander Jake Westbrook, despite a mysterious sixth inning (four runs), which looked nothing like the first five (no hits), gained his fourth victory.
Westbrook, his sinkerball effective again, at least until the sixth, recorded 10 ground-ball outs of his 18 for the night before he turned the game over the bullpen.
Matheny agreed that it was “odd” for his team to strike out so many times, yet have so many hits (15) and score so many runs.
“Guys on our club were having called strikeouts you just don’t see very often. Something was a little off tonight,” said Matheny.
This was a gentle way of suggesting that home plate umpire Marvin Hudson’s strike zone took some getting used to, both for his hitters and even for Westbrook.
“There were a lot of things on both sides,” said Matheny. “The strike zone was tough tonight.”
Houston starter Lucas Harrell, who registered three straight called third strikes in the third, found the Cardinals looking at his offerings again in the fourth. But, this time they were drawing three walks in a span of four hitters after Craig, a .461 hitter with men in scoring postion, singled in Beltran, who had doubled off the left-field wall.
Jay, the third of the Cardinals to walk, forced home Craig. Pete Kozma, a .343 hitter with men in scoring position, some 90 points over his regular average, singled to make it 3-0.
Carpenter then plugged the right-center-field gap with his three-run hit on which Houston right fielder Justin Maxwell was shaken up trying to make a diving catch.
After Maxwell, who later was found to have suffered a mild concussion, was tended to and then removed, Yadier Molina caused the exit of Harrell with a run-scoring single. Molina is a .405 hitter with men in scoring territory.
Carpenter’s three-run hit was his only hit in six at-bats and he contributed three of the strikeouts, two of them called.
“I don’t even want to comment on that,” said Carpenter. “Some of those at-bats were out of our control. It was an odd zone, the best way I can describe it.
“Pitches he thought were strikes were balls and balls were strikes. You see a team score 13 runs and strike out, what 14 times? How many were looking (nine)? That should tell you, right there. It was just one of those nights.”
Carpenter said he always had enjoyed playing in front of family and friends and used to come often to Minute Maid to watch the Astros. He said his favorite player had been former Cardinals teammate Lance Berkman, which, he said, made Berkman feel even older than he already was.
Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez got the Astros’ first hit, a home run to lead off the sixth. Former Cardinal Brett Wallace, just recalled from the minors, tripled home two runs, making him eight for 17 against Westbrook.
Shortstop Kozma made a diving stop on J.D. Martinez to end the inning. Westbrook then stood on the mound for a moment, perhaps trying to figure out why the sixth had been so much different than the first five innings.
“Some bad pitches happened that inning,” said Westbrook. “I’ve had some snowballing innings over my career but that happened a little quicker than I wanted it to. It was a little disappointing.”
Westbrook has made three starts since coming off the disabled list because of elbow problems and said, “I feel pretty good.”
This is Westbrook-speak for there is some discomfort and there always will be.
“I’m always going to have some things, being 35 and having the elbow (two surgeries) that I have and the innings (nearly 1,700) that I have.
“I’d like for it to feel better,” he said. “But it’s not going to be magically like I was 25 again. I’ll just try to maintain how I’ve felt the last three outings.”
Edward Mujica, who didn’t pitch on the weekend, got up to 18 pitches during a mop-up role and allowed a run in the ninth. To save him for tonight, Matheny pulled him for rookie Michael Blazek.
Mujica nearly hurt himself trying to make a sliding grab and then a tag attempt on Martinez’s tapper before Mujica got the out with a throw to first.
“I didn’t like that all,” said Matheny of Mujica’s off-balance play. “And he didn’t give me a real good answer. I think he was frustrated at guys getting on base and letting a run come across.”
Mujica said he was not hurt on the play.
The Cardinals’ seven-run fourth marked the seventh time they had scored that many runs or more in an inning. Cincinnati is next with four.