HOUSTON (AP) - St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia entered Saturday night's start 0-3 in five career starts against the Astros.
Make that 0-4, with another major clunker.
Chris Johnson hit his first career grand slam off Garcia, Bud Norris continued his dominance of the Cardinals and the Astros beat St. Louis 8-2 to win a fifth consecutive game for the first time since late 2010.
The victory earned the Astros their second consecutive home series win with a game to spare. The last time the Astros won five straight was Aug. 22-26, 2010.
Garcia (2-2) was charged with a season-high six runs on four hits in six innings for the Cardinals, who lost their season-worst third straight.
Garcia walked a season-high four and struck out two for his second loss in as many starts.
``The problem was the walks,' said Garcia, whose ERA against the Astros rose to 6.89. ``It was a terrible job right there, and I didn't get the job done. They got me. That is the worst thing you can do as a pitcher - walk guys.'
Garcia walked Brian Bogusevic, Carlos Lee and Jed Lowrie to load the bases for Johnson.
Johnson more than made up for a fielding error in the top of the first by taking Garcia deep on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the bottom half to give the Astros a 4-1 lead.
``You go 40 pitches in the first and throw that many walks up there, more often than not, that's going to come back to get you,' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. ``He was one pitch away from getting out of that. The 0-2 pitch that really deflated (us) . we came out in the first and scored, but then we get the four thrown right back in our face.'
Garcia said the 0-2 pitch to Johnson was supposed to be in the dirt.
``I had the strikes,' he said. ``I didn't execute the pitches when I needed to. That was a terrible job right there.'
Matheny said Garcia was out of his rhythm in the first and had trouble finding it.
``A lot of movement can be a blessing and a curse,' he said. ``It sometimes can run you off the plate if your timing isn't perfect. He was struggling to find that slot, but once again, he was one pitch from getting out of it.'
Norris (2-1) limited the Cardinals to one unearned run on three hits over six innings to improve to 7-2 in 11 career starts against them.
``He's a good pitcher,' St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina said. ``When they give him the extra runs, he gets confidence.'
The Cardinals got on the board first with Carlos Beltran's RBI single to right field that scored Rafael Furcal, who singled to lead off the game and reached third a batter later when Johnson failed to secure a groundball.
Justin Maxwell, who started at center field in place of Jordan Schafer, put the Astros ahead 5-1 with an RBI double in the fourth to plate Johnson, and Norris added a run with a sacrifice fly.
After a shaky first, Norris was dominant the next three innings, at one point retiring eight in a row. The Cardinals nearly got Norris again in the sixth, when he allowed three walks, including one to David Freese with two outs to load the bases, before getting Molina to ground into a forceout to end the inning.
Matt Holiday hit an RBI single off Astros reliever David Carpenter in the eighth inning to score Jon Jay and cut the Astros' lead to four.
Jed Lowrie hit a two-run home run in the eighth off Cardinals reliever J.C. Romero to cap the scoring. It was originally ruled an RBI double, but after a review the umpiring crew changed it to a homer after seeing the ball bounce off the railing above the yellow line over the left-field wall. It was Lowrie's fourth home run of the season.
NOTES: Beltran was back in the starting lineup after pinch-hitting in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Astros. Beltran missed the previous two starts with a sore right hamstring. ... Astros RHP Rhiner Cruz was scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Oklahoma City on Saturday night and again Monday, Astros manager Brad Mills said. Cruz was placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 24 with an ankle sprain. ... Johnson's grand slam was the second by the Astros this season. Schafer hit one April 22 against Los Angeles. ... After the game, the Astros recalled RHP Aneury Rodriguez from Class Triple-A Oklahoma City. He will start Tuesday.
The Associated Press News Service
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