Holliday, Ankiel lift Cards past Astros
Oufielders' RBI hits in eighth inning prove to be difference
ST. LOUIS -- If Matt Holliday is still making up his mind as to what he thinks of St. Louis, be sure the uncertainty is not mutual.
The city fell deeper in love with the newest Cardinal on Friday night when he almost single-handedly delivered a hard-earned 4-3 win over the Astros at Busch Stadium. Holliday went 4-for-4, scored a run and drove in two, as the Redbirds made it four wins in their past five games. The home team rallied from deficits in the seventh and eighth innings before closer Ryan Franklin nailed it down in the ninth. A week earlier, Houston swept St. Louis at Minute Maid Park, but back at home the Cards turned things around.
Holliday, of course, did not work entirely alone. Mark DeRosa, another recent addition, drilled a pivotal solo homer in the seventh inning. Still another new Cardinal, Julio Lugo, tripled and scored. Albert Pujols scored the tying run after he was hit by a pitch, and Rick Ankiel drove in the game-winning run with a perfectly placed opposite-field single through the hole between third base and shortstop.
"You can pick your hero," manager Tony La Russa said. "He [Holliday] was one of them."
It was another October-type win for a team furiously trying to make its way to the postseason. And thanks to the Cubs' loss at Florida, the Cardinals once again lead the National League Central by one-half game as the calendar turns to August. The past eight times the Cardinals have been in first on the morning of Aug. 1, they've won their division. And thanks to Lugo, DeRosa and especially Holliday, the Cardinals take a better team into the season's final two months than they had for most of the first four.
"We've got two months to accumulate as many wins as we can, try to get hot and distance ourselves," DeRosa said.
Houston's Brian Moehler shut the Cardinals down on his first time through the batting order, facing the minimum through three innings -- marred only by a Holliday infield hit, erased when he was caught stealing. In the fourth, though, Lugo tripled to center with one out. With a 1-0 lead, the Astros chose to walk Pujols, bringing up Holliday. And Holliday delivered, lining a single to left field that tied the game.
The Astros took the lead on rookie Mitchell Boggs half an inning later, and it stayed 2-1 until DeRosa hit a solo homer in the seventh. Houston took the lead right back with three two-out singles in the top of the eighth, but Pujols got things started in the bottom of the inning when he was hit in the back. That brought up the torrid Holliday, who sliced a game-tying double to right field. It was his 17th hit in 29 at-bats as a Cardinal, a ridiculous .586 batting average.
"He's been hot," Astros catcher Ivan Rodriguez said. "We threw a couple of good pitches and he was able to hit them for a base hit. The first RBI when we walked Pujols, it was down and away and he pulled it. The last RBI was a hanging breaking ball. To be honest with you, I looked at him and he started looking and didn't know where the ball went. When you go through a streak like that, it's tough to get a guy out."
Holliday has begun his Cardinals career with an eight-game hitting streak, the first St. Louis player to do that since Roger Maris in 1967. He's having a great time in his new home, and playing in a pennant race.
"You get to come to a clubhouse like this, a video room, the facility that we have to come to work I think has given me a boost of adrenaline that I hadn't had for a while," he said. "Once I get out on the field and get between the lines, obviously the fans give you a nice boost of adrenaline, but as a competitive athlete, when I get out there, whether I'm here or playing on a sandlot somewhere, I want to play well and produce."
Still, the game was only tied at that point. Houston walked Ryan Ludwick to get to Ankiel, and the previously slumping center fielder continued his re-emergence with an RBI single the other way.
"Sinkerball pitcher, first and third, Tejada up the middle there is looking for the double play," Ankiel said. "So I just tried to get something that I thought I could drive over in that direction."
Handed the lead, Franklin finished it off for his 24th save. Trever Miller picked up the win in relief for St. Louis, which has won eight out of its last 10 home games.
"It's fun," Holliday said. "I'd like to win some easy games. I'd like for us to score about 12 and hold them to about two every now and then, but yeah, winning games is what it's all about and we're winning games."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.