HOUSTON -- The results weren't good, but St. Louis starter Braden Looper didn't think he pitched badly at all Friday night against the Houston Astros.

Looper (7-5) gave up five of the runs in the Cardinals' 6-1 loss at Minute Maid Park, but three of them were unearned.

"This is going to sound weird, but I've definitely pitched worse than that," Looper said. "I felt really well. I made a lot of really good pitches. I made a few mistakes up, and they hit them.

"Today's as good as I've thrown in a month. I know if I can pitch like that, we're going to win a lot of games."

Manager Tony La Russa seconded Looper's assessment.

"Overall, I think he did pretty good," La Russa said. "He made a couple of mistakes for the two runs. Then he had some tough pitcher's luck and he limited the damage. He kept competing."

Looper gave up eight hits and equaled his career high of seven strikeouts, set May 12, 2007, at San Diego. He threw 107 pitches.

Houston touched him for a pair of runs in the third on three hits, Hunter Pence's double the key one.

The Astros struck for three more runs in the fourth. Darin Erstad lead off the inning with a double and Looper hit the next batter, Lance Berkman.

Carlos Lee then hit a ground ball to shortstop Cesar Izturis, who threw the ball into right field, allowing both runners to score and Lee to run all the way to third base.

"He slipped going for the ball and he tried to hurry," Looper said of the errant throw. Geoff Blum hit a grounder to Albert Pujols at first. Pujols threw home in time to get Lee, but catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ball.

"I wouldn't call it a sloppy play," Looper said in response to a reporter's question about the errors. "Those guys are human. They're trying to make plays. Izzy's made some amazing plays for me this year. Yaddy's got as sure as hands as there are. The fourth inning was really a weird inning."

"That's just baseball," La Russa said of Molina's miscue. "He's trying to catch it and make the tag. It's a tough play."

The three runs gave Houston a 5-0 lead.

The Cardinals couldn't do anything against Astros starter Brian Moehler (3-2), the former reliever who gave up only two singles over seven innings.

"Moehler was the story," La Russa said. "He didn't throw anything over the middle of the plate."

Joe Mather struck out three times in an 0-for-4 night, two of the Ks coming against Moehler.

"He threw me a lot of split fingers in good spots," Mather said. "He hit a lot of nice spots, borderline pitches you hope they call balls."

Skip Schumaker collected two of the four St. Louis hits in the game, all singles.

"He had command of all his pitches, kept us off balance," Schumaker said of Moehler. "I'd never seen him as a starter before. I was really impressed."

St. Louis missed a chance to get back in the game against Moehler in the fifth after Molina walked with one out and Adam Kennedy singled him to second. La Russa left Looper in the game to bunt rather than pinch-hit for him.

"You think about it, but I didn't do it," La Russa said of pinch-hitting in that situation. "I stayed with Looper."

Pujols, bothered by a strained left calf, returned to the starting lineup, but went 0-for-4, striking out twice.

"He came out of the game all right," La Russa said of Pujols.

Right-hander Mitchell Boggs, called up Friday from Triple-A Memphis, made his Major League debut in relief. He pitched two innings, gave up three hits and one home run. The homer was hit by Blum.

"Welcome to the big leagues," La Russa said of the home run.

"I felt good out there," Boggs said. "I was a little worried coming in I'd be a little outside myself. For the most part I had good command. I challenged [Blum] with a fastball in. You make a mistake like that, they're going to hit it."