HOUSTON -- Right-hander Jake Westbrook hit -- that's right, hit -- the Cardinals to a 7-4 victory on Tuesday night over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.Astros manager Brad Mills decided in the fourth inning to intentionally walk Cards No. 8 hitter Daniel Descalso, loading the bases and bringing up Westbrook. The pitcher ripped a first-pitch slider for a double into the gap in left-center, scoring all three baserunners, to give the Cardinals a 5-2 lead. "I think it was the second start [of the season], the last hit I had," Westbrook said. "It was a good time to get another one, and it was big for us. I was just going up there being aggressive. Anytime you can put up some runs yourself, it feels great." Westbrook's hit raised his average to .143, with a single and two doubles. Still, he wasn't going to question Mills' strategy. "More times than not, it's the right play," he said. "I just happened to run into one."
Westbrook hits well enough that manager Tony La Russa used him to pinch-hit in the eighth inning last Thursday against San Francisco. He struck out."I learned a little bit from my pinch-hit experience the other night," he said. "I wanted to be aggressive. But I also wanted to get a pitch to hit. The previous at-bat, he threw me that slider for a strike."
"We're missing half our offense, so that was pretty big," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said.Westbrook (6-3) did just fine on the mound, too, pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing three runs (two earned). "I felt like I threw the ball pretty well," he said. "I just racked up a lot of pitches, a few walks I didn't really want. I made pitches when I needed to. I felt like I battled all night." Westbrook threw 100 pitches before leaving with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. "I'd definitely like to get deeper in the ballgame and keep my pitch count down," he said. "It was one of those games where I threw a lot of pitches early. You need your bullpen to help you out, and they did a great job tonight." Fernando Salas pitched two innings to pick up his 11th save of the season, allowing a run with two outs in the ninth. Five Cardinals relievers combined to give up four walks, hit a batter and throw a wild pitch over 4 2/3 innings. Salas needed 44 pitches to close out the Astros. "He's got great guts," La Russa said. "That was beyond the call of duty. I don't know if he's got an easy [save] yet. He's got command of several pitches, and they're above average big league. He's not using mirrors out there." La Russa called on Salas after Eduardo Sanchez had walked the first two batters of the eighth inning. Salas walked the first hitter he faced, then struck out Michael Bourn, got Clint Barmes to fly out to shallow center and struck out the hot-hitting Hunter Pence to end the inning. "You're just trying to get through the inning," La Russa said of bringing in Salas before the ninth. "We need three outs [in the ninth]. He's already wasted the next two days. You just don't ask your closer to do that too often." Salas' teammates appreciate what he's doing. The Cardinals had a revolving door at the end of their bullpen after Ryan Franklin, who began the season as the club's closer, struggled out of the gate. Salas, who began the season with Triple-A Memphis and was called up on April 13, is one of seven Cardinals pitchers to have a save opportunity this season. "He's been the single stabilizing force on this team," Berkman said. "There was some inconsistency before, and now he's stepped up and been a consistent performer in the back end of the bullpen, and you've got to have that. Everybody [in the bullpen] has settled into a good role. The key is him." Ryan Theriot extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a two-out double in the ninth that scored St. Louis' seventh run. It was the fifth time in the streak that Theriot got his only hit in his final at-bat. "I don't like that," he said. "I'd rather get one early. I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't know what was going on [with the hitting streak]. It's easy to forget about during the game. I joke about it all day long." Descalso gave Theriot a chance to bat in the ninth when he singled with one out two batters ahead of him. "He said I owed him dinner," Theriot said of Descalso. Berkman, who went 8-for-14 on his last trip to Houston, nailed the Astros with a two-run homer in the first inning into the Houston bullpen. "He's a pro," La Russa said. "He's got all those numbers because he knows what he's doing. That was huge to get us off." Berkman, who hit his 13th homer of the season, played 12 seasons for the Astros and has been a menace to them all season. "He did it again, man," said Bourn. "He's seeing the ball well right now. He got his pitch and he didn't miss it. He's seeing the curveball pretty good. It was down, and I guess he saw it out of his hand, and he put a good swing on it. He's got some power when he gets it good." Berkman, who has been bothered by an injury to his right wrist, took a cortisone shot on Saturday and sat out Sunday's game. "It feels pretty good," Berkman said. "It feels as good as it has since I hurt it, so that's a good sign." Berkman finished the night 1-for-3 with a walk and appeared to have a second hit when Houston's Jeff Keppinger threw him out from deep behind second base. The normally calm Berkman showed some anger toward the first base umpire. "I was safe," Berkman. "He called me out. That cost me a hit." Albert Pujols hit his 14th homer with a long drive to left in the eighth inning. That gave Pujols five home runs in his past four past games. The St. Louis record, which Pujols already holds with three others, is five consecutive games. "He's a great ballplayer," said La Russa. "He does great things."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.