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Molina jacks a solo dinger to left-center

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals ushered in the new grass at Busch Stadium with a victory on Monday night.

Yadier Molina's huge night at the plate helped the Cardinals down the Astros, 10-5, as St. Louis remained tied atop the National League Central standings with the Pirates, who beat the Braves in Atlanta.

Kyle McClellan started for the Cardinals and won his first game since May 19 -- also against Houston -- to end his run of five straight losses, and Colby Rasmus shrugged off the trade rumors and homered for the second straight game as the Redbirds took the first of a four-game series against the Astros.

The stadium's new turf, which was installed after the ballpark hosted a U2 concert on July 17, claimed its first victim in the third inning, when Astros right fielder Hunter Pence slipped while attempting to catch a drive by Nick Punto.

"I didn't expect it to be tough until I fell down, and then I was rather uncomfortable," Pence said. "We knew there was new sod and ground balls were going to be faster and ground balls were going to be tough. We didn't really expect all the slipping."

It was the second outfield mishap in as many games for Pence, who lost a ball in the sun on Sunday in Chicago, leading to the Cubs scoring the winning run in the 10th inning.

This time, Pence fell to the ground and watched as the ball sailed over his head and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Molina to score and giving Punto enough time to hustle into third base for an RBI triple.

"The ball that Hunter came in on, that's not really good traction out there," said Houston outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who was also victimized by the new surface when he misplayed a bouncing ball on a hit to left field.

"It's kind of expected, knowing they had to re-sod the field," Bourgeois said. "Like the ball that was hit to me -- it stayed down and I wasn't expecting it to take a bounce like that. It's a tough break."

David Freese started the second-inning rally with a leadoff single and Molina reached base with a double, the first of three hits on the night for the catcher. He finished the game 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

It was the second three-hit performance for Molina in his last three games and his eighth three-hit game of the year, tying him with Victor Martinez and Miguel Montero for the highest mark among Major League catchers.

Molina led off the fourth inning with a home run that landed in the Astros' bullpen in left field. The 396-foot blast was the catcher's eighth homer of the year, tying his single-season career high (2005).

McClellan gave up one run on six hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking none. The right-hander is 3-0 against Houston this season, but 4-6 against the rest of the league.

McClellan stayed out of trouble, kept the Astros off-balance at the plate and allowed multiple baserunners in a frame just once, in the second inning when Houston scored its lone run off the right-hander.

"I felt like it was one of my better outings," McClellan said. "I was up a little bit early and I felt like I was able to get the ball down and get my ground balls later."

J.A. Happ started for the Astros and labored through 4 2/3 innings. The southpaw allowed six runs on seven hits and departed with his pitch count at 112 after receiving little help from his defense.

"You've got to give the Cardinals credit," Happ said. "They had a lot of tough at-bats. I felt I did a good job containing the heart of their order, and in the second inning they got a couple of hits, and that was the damage that hurt."

Happ is 0-4 against the Cards in 2011.

Rasmus also homered for the Cardinals, a two-run shot that traveled 436 feet into the right-field bleachers for his 11th roundtripper of the season. He's swinging a hot bat in his last two games, going a combined 3-for-7 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs scored.

Rasmus declined multiple requests for interviews with the media after the game.

The Astros mounted a late rally in the eighth as Carlos Lee hit a towering fly ball into the porch in left field for a grand slam off Cards reliever P.J. Walters. It was the 16th grand slam of Lee's career and his second against Walters in as many at-bats.

But Mitchell Boggs entered the game and got two outs to end any hopes of a Houston comeback, with Rasmus making a diving catch in center field to end the inning.

"If that ball gets by Colby, you're talking one or two runs," said manager Tony La Russa. "That was a big play." Comments