HOUSTON -- Behind a dominant outing on the mound from Carlos Martínez and an offensive onslaught featuring 12 hits and home runs from Jeremy Hazelbaker and Brandon Moss, the Cardinals won their fourth in a row, beating the Astros, 8-2, at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday afternoon.
With the victory, the Cardinals maintained their one-game lead over the Pirates for the second National League Wild Card berth. They are two games behind the Giants for the top NL Wild Card spot.
Martinez held the Astros' inconsistent offense down long enough for St. Louis to storm out to a 4-0 lead after three. The 24-year-old right-hander went seven innings, surrendering only one run while keeping Houston hitless until the sixth. It was the third time in the past four games that the Astros scored only two runs, and it was a rebound performance for Martinez following the unraveling he endured near the end of his last start in Chicago.
"It's fun to watch how he takes some hard lessons like maybe he got in Chicago and how focused he stayed all the way through this game," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He wants to be great. And he has every tool necessary to be great. We just want to help him get out of his own way sometimes."
Trailing, 8-2, in the bottom of the ninth, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs, but Matt Bowman came on and struck out Teoscar Hernández and Evan Gattis and induced George Springer to ground out and strand all three runners.
The Astros are riding their first four-game losing streak since bottoming out at 17-28 on May 22.
"The rollercoaster ride that we've been on is no fun when we're in this portion of it," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "This game will test your character. It will test your resolve. It will test your ability to come back from adversity, and this is yet another test for us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Masterful Martinez: Martinez delivered his strongest performance since the All-Star break to snap a personal three-start winless streak. His efficiency was sensational, as Martinez breezed through five hitless innings on 52 pitches and threw 79 over seven innings. The right-hander struck out seven and induced a slew of weak ground-ball outs while featuring his sinker and offspeed pitches prominently. It was Martinez's 10th season start of one or fewer runs allowed. No one else in the Cardinals' rotation has more than five.
"That's especially why I really tried to mix up the balls and work the corners because they're known as a team that is really aggressive from the jump and they swing a lot," Martinez said, speaking through a translator. "I saw that my sinker was doing really well with lower velocity, so I decided not to really outdo myself."
Lacking quality: For the fourth consecutive game, the Astros couldn't get a quality start out of their starter. This time, veteran Doug Fister allowed seven hits and four runs in only four innings. The nine runs he's given up in his last two starts tie a season high for the most the right-hander has surrendered in consecutive starts this season.
"[St. Louis] hung in there pretty effectively, hitting foul ball after foul ball after foul ball and then putting the ball in play," Hinch said. "... You look up and Doug's at 90-plus pitches in the fourth inning. Doug didn't quite have the put-away pitches to end at-bats on time." More >
Power hungry: Hazelbaker's fourth-inning solo homer not only extended the Cardinals' lead, but it also put the 2016 offense in the franchise record books. For the first time in club history, 10 players have connected for at least nine home runs. The previous franchise high of nine had been set back in 2000. The Cards have strung together eight consecutive multihomer games, also a franchise record.
"I'm happy with the fact that we're spreading the wealth," Matheny said. "It keeps your team in it every game. All the way through our lineup, we have the ability to do damage with the long ball, and that's a nice attribute for an offense to have." More >
Offense disappears: While the offense suffered a dry spell earlier in the month of August, Houston had seemingly gotten back on track lately, scoring 39 runs in its previous five games. But the Astros fell right back into that same lull, not notching a hit or run until the bottom of the sixth.
"The more that we swing outside the strike zone," Hinch said, "trying to do too much, trying to be the guy, [the more] we see some rough games along the way."
"The last two outings he's had have been extremely impressive. He and [catcher] Yadi [Molina] are getting a good feel for how to expand the plate. He's got guys really considering that sinker all the time because it's an above-average pitch. -- Matheny on Bowman, who has worked out of bases-loaded, no-out jams in each of his past two appearances
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Moss' three-run blast in the seventh was his team-leading 22nd homer and fourth in the first six games of the Cardinals' road trip. With this power surge, Moss has dropped his at-bats per home run ratio to 12.73, the lowest among all Major League hitters with a minimum of 160 at-bats.
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa was riding a career-long hitting streak of 11 games, but that streak was broken Wednesday when Correa went 0-for-4 at the plate.
"[Martinez] had everything working," Correa said. "His changeup was good, slider was good. He was commanding his fastball, so it was tough today."
Cardinals: After an off-day Thursday, the Cardinals will open the final leg of a three-city road trip Friday with a 6:05 p.m. CT game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Starter Adam Wainwright will look to get back on track after allowing 13 runs in his past two outings. Wainwright is coming off a career-low two-inning start.
Astros: The Astros continue their tough stretch of 15 of 17 on the road with a four-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards, starting Thursday at 6:05 p.m CT. Joe Musgrove (1-0, 1.47 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in his third Major League start.
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