After two four-run wins in the series' first two games, the St. Louis Cardinals completed the sweep of the visiting Houston Astros in much more dramatic fashion on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Starter Jaime Garcia turned in his second consecutive and the team's fifth consecutive quality start as the Cardinals continued their setting of the pace for the National League's second Wild Card berth.
Jaime Garcia struggled in the first inning. Two out of the first three Astros singled. Then, two walks pushed the game's first run across before Garcia wriggled out of the jam with a groundout.
For their part, the St. Louis offense came out swinging. Literally. Jon Jay led things off with a flyout. Then Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday singled. Batting fourth, Allen Craig cleaned up with a three-run home run that landed beyond the wall in left-center field. Craig's 22nd homer made it a 3-1 ballgame.
In the top of the third, the Astros struck back. Brandon Barnes led off with a double. After a Matt Dominguez groundout, Justin Maxwell traded places with Barnes via an RBI double that made the game 3-2. A two-out single by Brandon Laird tied the game at three runs apiece before Garcia induced an inning-ending strikeout.
Garcia exited the game after six innings pitched. The southpaw allowed three runs, all of them earned, on six hits and two walks. Garcia also notched five strikeouts. In the bottom of the sixth, the offense put him in position to earn a pitching "win."
David Freese led off the home half of the sixth with a strikeout. Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma each drew a walk. With the pitcher's spot up and runners at first and second, manager Mike Matheny elected to pinch-hit with the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran. The Astros countered by pulling righthanded starter Bud Norris and replacing him with lefty Wesley Wright in a double-switch. Even though Beltran's average and on-base percentage are lower in 2012 when batting righthanded, he had hit for more power righthanded entering the game, with a .252 ISO that was 38 points higher than his lefthanded ISO. This pattern held true. Beltran doubled home Descalso and Kozma to make it a 5-3 Cardinals lead.
In the top of the seventh, Matheny initiated MUBOGMOT, but Phase I, MU, struggled. Scott Moore led off with a single against Mujica. The reliever then threw a wild pitch that advanced Moore to second. A Jose Altuve groundout advanced the runner to third with one out, where he was driven in by a Dominguez single to make it a one-run ballgame, the bane of the 2012 Cardinals. After an intentional walk, Mujica induced a double play that ended the threat.
After the Cardinals failed to score in a bottom of the seventh that featured another caught stealing (this one, by Craig), Matheny continued to Phase II of MUBOGMOT, but BOG proved as hairy as MU. Boggs walked leadoff man Brian Bogusevic. The Astros gave the Cardinals an out with a sacrifice bunt. Boggs then walked Jed Lowrie, who represented the go-ahead run for Houston.
Emergency measures were taken; MUBOGMOT became MUBOGRZEPSALMOT.
Lefty Marc Rzepcynzski was brought in to face Matt Downs. RZEP walked Downs to load the bases, so Matheny turned to Fernando Salas with one out and the bases juiced. Salas mowed down Altuve on three pitches for the second out and struck out former Future Redbird Brett Wallace looking to end the threat.
David Freese led off the eighth with a single. Because it was a one-run game and Matheny would rather not have Freese's bat in the game should extra innings occur, the manager removed Freese for pinch-runner Adron Chambers. After the gracious gift of an out from the Astros, Matheny decided to return the favor by ordering Descalso to sacrifice bunt. The gift of an out moved Chambers to second. A wild pitch during Kozma's at-bat put Chambers on third. But, Kozma's warlock magik wasn't working as he struck out swinging for the second out. For some unknown reason, the Astros intentionally walked pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker to get to Jay. Unfortunately, it worked. Jay grounded out to end the inning.
Jason Motte allowed a leadoff single to Dominguez, then struck out Justin Maxwell on four pitches and Jason Castro on three pitches. Motte closed out the game with a strikeout of Bogusevic on eight pitches to punctuate his 38th save of the season and the Cardinals' fourth win in a row.