ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Houston Astros' cleanup hitter is starting to act the part.
Carlos Lee made things interesting with his 16th career grand slam, homering for the second straight game in a 10-5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night. Lee has a dozen seasons with 24 or more homers but has only nine this year, but is 10-for-25 with nine RBIs the last seven games.
``I'm feeling good at the plate, hitting the ball hard,' Lee said. ``I hope I'm coming around and can keep driving the ball.'
The Astros trailed 8-1 before Lee connected in the eighth off P.J. Walters, cutting the gap to three runs before St. Louis answered with two runs. He's tied for ninth on the career list with Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Dave Kingman and second on the active list, trailing only Alex Rodriguez' 21.
Since hitting .194 in April, Lee is batting .313 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 70 games.
``It was great to see it,' manager Brad Mills said. ``He kept battling the whole at-bat.'
Lee is 2-for-2 against Walters, both grand slams, also connecting on July 21, 2009 in Houston.
``I didn't know that. For real?' Lee said. ``That's crazy, but that's the game.'
Slow-footed catcher Yadier Molina was a triple shy of the cycle for the second time in three games and Kyle McClellan ended an eight-game victory drought for the Cardinals.
The Astros' Hunter Pence suffered his second fielding gaffe in as many games, handing Nick Punto a gift RBI triple in the second after misjudging a routine fly, appearing to lose the ball in lights and then stumbling. It wasn't clear whether new turf, replaced after a U2 concert eight days earlier, played a role.
``We'll deal with it,' Mills said. ``We're not thrilled with it. You want the sure footing and so forth, but it wasn't there. And it cost us a little bit.'
Pence said he wasn't worried about footing ``until I fell down and then I was rather uncomfortable.'
He ran several steps after making a running catch for the second out in the eighth, leading some to believe he had thought the inning was over.
``I didn't want to stop very quickly,' Pence said.
Colby Rasmus, the Cardinals' player mentioned most in rumors heading into the trade deadline, homered for the second straight day with three RBIs.
Molina has three career triples in 897 career at_bats and missed his only shot for the cycle when he took a called third strike from Mark Melancon in the eighth. He's 6-for-12 with two homers and five RBIs his last three games and his eighth homer, matching his career single-season best from 2005, came in the fourth off J.A. Happ (4-12).
McClellan (7-6) was the first National League pitcher to get to six victories after working eight strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the Astros at home on May 19 and finally made it to No. 7 after working seven strong innings. The right-hander had been 0-4 with a 5.48 ERA the previous seven starts, all St. Louis losses.
The first-year starter allowed one run on six hits and walked none and has won all three of his outings against the Astros.
Happ surrendered five or more runs for the sixth straight start, and has given up five or more runs in half of his eight career starts against the Cardinals. He's also 1-7 with a 8.02 ERA on the road this season.
Pence leads the National League with nine assists and was the Astros' lone All-Star, but has struggled lately.
On Sunday, Pence said he was blinded by the sun on Marlon Byrd's leadoff triple, which should have been a routine play, in the 10th inning of the Cubs' 5-4 victory. He came in on Punto's fly ball, then appeared blinded by lights on a hit that put St. Louis up 2-1.
In the eighth, Pence apparently believed he had caught Ryan Theriot's fly ball for the third out, running several steps before finally throwing late to third as Punto took the extra base.
Punto scored on what appeared to be a busted squeeze play, and was halfway down the line when McClellan swung away and grounded out to second for an RBI that made it 3-1.
The Astros have lost four in a row and are a major-league worst 33-69, going 10-35 since June 2. A bright spot was rookie Jose Altuve, who had three hits and has hit safely in all five career starters.
The 21-year-old Altuve began the year at Class A Lancaster and at the time of his callup led all minor leaguers with a .389 average.
Notes: Walters had not allowed a hit in 3 2/3 innings before Monday, when he gave up three hits and four runs in one-third of an inning. ... Cardinals 3B David Freese, who has complained of leg tightness in recent games, was removed for a pinch runner after walking in the fifth. ... Bourn singled in the eighth and is 19-for-47 during a 10-game hitting streak. He entered with 64 hits since June 1, most in the majors over that span. ... Lee hit his first grand slam since June 9, 2010 at Colorado and it was the Astros' first since Jason Michaels connected against the Brewers Aug. 1, 2010. ... Pence, Lee and Brett Wallace are a combined 25-for-41 (.609) against Jake Westbrook, the Cardinals' starter Tuesday.
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