Cards Win Sunday to take 3 of 4 in Houston

In front of a national TV audience on ESPN, the St. Louis Cardinals picked up their third straight victory Sunday, with a hard fought 7-5 win over the Astros in 12 innings. Chris Carpenter who started the game for St. Louis allowed five runs in eight-plus innings, but didn't figure into the decision.

For the second day in the row it took the Cardinals extra innings to put away their National League Central Division rivals the Houston Astros.

Saturday, it took 10 innings before the Redbirds could notch, what has lately become a rare win, on their belt.

A two run blast by Albert Pujols in the top of the 10th, put the Cardinals ahead for good Saturday and assured St. Louis of at least a series split with Houston before the All-Star break.

The extra inning win on Saturday gave St. Louis back-to-back wins for the first time since winning four straight June 15-18. After the win on the 18th, the Cardinals were 5.5 games ahead in the N.L. Central and 16 games over .500.

The tail-spin over the last two-plus weeks has seen the club's record fall as low as six games above .500 with their lead slipping to a tie for first, but somehow the Redbirds never fell out of first place in the NL Central.

Sunday, it was Aaron Miles' turn to be the hero. This time the defining moment came in the 12th inning after St. Louis and Houston had fought tooth and nails for 11 innings, with the Cardinals appearing to be on the brink of yet another road loss.

The Cardinals had enjoyed a comfortable 5-2 lead, in the middle of the eighth, before giving up two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to force the club into extra innings for the second day in a row.

Miles, the switch-hitting infielder hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run double in the top of the 12th inning to give the Cardinals a 7-5 lead over the Astros, in what turned out to be the winning runs for St. Louis.

Josh Hancock, in relief, closed out the game against the top of the Houston Astros' order, to record the first save of his Major League career.

Braden Looper who pitched two scoreless innings in relief, picked up the win, to improve to 4-1 with a 3.96 ERA for the first half of the season.

The Cards have played five extra inning games since June 24th (14 games), losing three until yesterday's victory. The win Saturday gave the Redbirds their first extra-inning win since May 31 vs. Houston. The team now is just 3-5 in extra inning games this season after going a combined 14-7 in extra frames in 2004 (9-4) & 2005 (5-3). The 2001 Cardinals were the last team to be sub-.500 in extra innings with a 2-7 mark.

St. Louis goes into the All-Star break with a 48-39 record, nine games above .500, with a four-game lead over second-place Cincinnati in the National League Central. Milwaukee is in third, just 5 1/2 games back, while the Astros failing to take advantage of home field advantage this weekend, losing three of four, have fallen six out and find themselves in fourth place at the break.

The Cardinals will have three days off, thanks to the 77th All Star Game and will open the second half of the season on Thursday at home, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will be in town for a four-game set. Jason Marquis is expected to start the first game for St. Louis in the second half.

Three Cardinals players, Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Scott Rolen will miss out on the mid-season break, to be at this year's All-Star game in Pittsburgh.

Albert Pujols led all players in fan voting and is making his fifth appearance in six years in the Majors. Chris Carpenter was selected by players and will be at his 2nd All-Star game after starting last year's mid-summer classic and Scott Rolen was selected by N.L. Manager Phil Garner and will enjoy his fifth All-Star Game.

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