HOUSTON -- The Cardinals showed why they are the best hitting team in the National League on Thursday night, scoring nine runs on 10 hits and sending 14 batters to the plate in the sixth inning en route to an 11-7 win over the Houston Astros.
David Freese, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the order, delivered two hits apiece in the inning, with Berkman's three-run homer being the big blow.
The nine runs added up to the Cardinals' biggest inning of the season, and the biggest inning since they scored 10 runs on 10 hits on Aug. 6, 2007, against San Diego. The most runs St. Louis scored in one inning was 12 against Philadelphia, back in 1926.
"Oh man, what an inning," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's hard to believe.
"We've got some weapons. The veterans are really the guys leading the way: Matt, Albert and Lance. That's why they've had great careers."
The Cardinals kept driving in run after run in the sixth. Nine of the 10 hits were singles. There was only one walk.
"It kind of developed real quick," Berkman said. "The next thing you know, there's nine runs. With the guys we have in this lineup, we have the potential to explode. That's the advantage of having guys top to bottom who are good hitters. If everybody plays to their baseball card, we have a great offense. We have the personnel to have as good an offense as there is in baseball."
No one could remember four players each getting two hits in an inning.
"I don't know if I've ever had two hits in an inning," Berkman said. "I can't remember a time when I did."
Pujols, after a slow start to the season, went 2-for-5, raising his average to .258.
"I'd love to struggle like Albert," Berkman said. "He's .260 with seven homers and 18 ribbies. That's why he's the greatest."
The Cardinals scored 22 runs in the three-game series, winning twice.
Catcher Gerald Laird drew a walk in his only plate appearance in the inning.
"I didn't realize how many runs we scored until I went out there on defense," he said. "That's the type of offense we thought we had. We're putting a lot of pressure on [opposing pitchers].
"It's pretty amazing. That's why I came here, because I knew we had a chance to win. This team has a chance to be something special. We're going to score some runs, and it's just fun to watch."
It was a defensive play by Laird that kept this one firmly in the Cardinals' grasp, after they nearly blew a six-run lead Wednesday night.
The Astros had already scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth, drawing within 10-7, and had the bases loaded with two outs. La Russa called in reliever Fernando Salas to pitch to Bill Hall.
"I knew he wanted to start out with a breaking ball," Laird said of Salas. "I wanted to make sure I kept everything in front of me. If it got by me, the tying run is in scoring position at second base."
Salas' first pitch went in the dirt and Hunter Pence, who was on third base, scampered for home.
"It kind of surprised me," Laird said of the ball. "It didn't kick off that far off me. I knew I could get it and get back [to the plate]. I wanted to make sure I took my time and fielded it cleanly. I just jumped in front of the plate."
Laird wasn't surprised to see Pence racing for home.
"As soon as I block it, I take a peek," Laird said. "He showed me he was coming. I had a little more time than I thought. I just wanted to be sure I got in front of the plate."
He did, and tagged Pence out to end the inning and the Astros' threat.
La Russa defended Pence's dash for home.
"You can't fault Pence," La Russa said. "He's aggressive. He got a great jump. That was a break [for us]."
Laird's play allowed the Cardinals to escape the bottom of the eighth with a three-run lead, and Berkman's second home run of the night in the ninth made it an 11-7 final.
That turned right-hander Kyle McClellan (4-0), who trailed 4-1 before the big inning, from a loser into a winner.
"He didn't have his good stuff tonight, and he knows that," Laird said of McClellan. "He battled. That's what good pitchers do, battle and keep their team in the game."
"It was frustrating," said McClellan, who allowed eight hits and five earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. "Hopefully you don't take your bullpen into the game, and we ended up doing that."
"He missed the glove a few times, and they took advantage," La Russa said of McClellan.
The right-hander wasn't pleased.
"[The Astros] were hitting the ball all over the place," he said. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher, and I didn't get them to hit it on the ground very often. It seemed like every ball I threw I left over the middle of the plate."
"It wasn't a clean-played series on both sides," concluded Laird. "Tonight was a real sloppy game."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.