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STL@HOU: Cards soar for seven-run fourth inning

HOUSTON -- After scoring seven runs in a three-game sweep at the hands of Texas' other team, the Cardinals only needed one inning to match that Tuesday night against the Astros.

St. Louis plated seven runs in a relentless fourth inning to chase Houston starter Lucas Harrell, and cranked out 15 hits to crush its former National League Central rival, 13-5, at Minute Maid Park.

So much for a slumping Cards offense, as Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig and David Freese added late two-run homers to prevent a four-game losing streak, which St. Louis has yet to suffer this season.

"It's pretty hard to make too much out of a weekend when you look at a whole season and what our offense has been able to do," said manager Mike Matheny. "I hope the guys didn't read into that anything at all because that series was not a fair statement. Our offense has been very consistent and has a very good idea what they're trying to do."

Yadier Molina rebounded from a 1-for-12 weekend against the Rangers with a 2-for-4 night, including an RBI single that put the finishing touches on the fourth-inning outburst.

Through three frames, Harrell used a loose strike zone and a second-inning double play to wiggle out of a few tight spots and frustrate St. Louis' hitters.

"Early on, we were trying to figure out the [strike] zone a little bit," Matheny said. "[Harrell] did a nice job of making tough pitches and leaving balls off the middle of the plate. We were just waiting for our opening."

They got that opening moments later, as St. Louis unleashed some pent-up offensive fury in the fourth.

Beltran doubled to left and Craig singled him home. After two walks and a strikeout, Jon Jay walked in another run before Pete Kozma continued to have a hot hand with runners in scoring position, delivering an RBI single.

But it was Houston area native Matt Carpenter who dealt the big blow. He cranked out a three-run triple to double the lead to 6-0.

That kind of production was more than enough for starter Jake Westbrook, who dominated early and carried a no-hitter through five innings.

"I had a good sinker going down in the zone, getting a lot of ground balls, which is my game," Westbrook said. "I rode that as long as I could."

Matt Dominguez snapped the no-hit bid with a leadoff homer in the sixth, and the Astros strung together three straight hits to sting Westbrook for three more runs in the frame. Dominguez's blast was the first homer Westbrook allowed this season.

"I elevated a few balls and they were super aggressive and I gave them a lot better pitches to hit," Westbrook said. "The first five innings, I was locating a lot better and mixing up better to get in pitcher's counts. They're a good hitting team and took advantage of the mistakes I made."

Westbrook was pulled after six, allowing four earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He earned the win, his fourth straight against the Astros, and left with a 9-4 lead.

In three starts since returning from the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, Westbrook's been solid. He's allowed seven runs and 14 hits in 18 innings and has a 2-1 record.

"I feel pretty good," Westbrook said. "You're always going to have to grind through some things, being 35 with the elbow and body I have. It felt good enough to work with my game tonight."

Freese responded to the slimming lead with a no-doubter near the left-field foul pole that essentially sealed the game, sending Astros fans for the exits, but drawing raucous cheers from the many Cardinals fans in attendance. Freese has at least one hit in 27 of his last 31 games.

Craig -- who was playing in left field while Matt Holliday was the designated hitter -- added to his fourth-inning single with a towering homer in the eighth. Craig finished with four hits and three RBIs.

"Safe to say [Craig] had a big night," Matheny said. "That first RBI really jumped us in the fourth and he's been doing that all season for us. He did it again in the eighth."

"He keeps running up those RBI totals and it just shows the big-hit column is something he's got a knack for. I can't explain it. It's not a fluke."

Despite the 13-run outburst, the offense was far from perfect considering St. Louis struck out 14 times.

Matheny and Carpenter each had gripes with home-plate umpire Marvin Hudson's strike zone, which they called "odd."

"It was out of our control at some point with those at-bats," Carpenter said. "Pitches we thought were balls were strikes and good pitches were balls. You see a team score 13 runs and strike out nine times looking, that says something right there."

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