Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals doubles against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Atlanta Braves have all this Wild Card that they can't possibly use. It'll just go to waste if someone doesn't take it. They're just giving it away. The Cardinals politely refused at first, but after the Braves persisted, they didn't want to seem rude. Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros, 13-6, and after starting September 8½ games behind the Braves, the Cards pulled into a tie for the Wild Card lead with one more day left in the regular-season schedule.
The Houston Astros might be the worst team in baseball -- and they have the most losses (105) of any team in a single season since the 2005 Royals (106), so they're in the running for the worst team since the 2003 Tigers -- but they've played the Cardinals tough in the first two games of the series.
Houston jumped out to an early lead off Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, scoring a run in the second inning on a J.R. Towles sacrifice fly, and in the third they knocked Westbrook out of the game. With one out and runners on second and third, Tony La Russa walked Carlos Lee intentionally to load the bases. Brett Wallace then grounded a single to right for two runs, and Jimmy Paredes tripled home two runs in the next at-bat to set the Astros up with a 5-0 lead. Mitchell Boggs came in to relieve Westbrook and stranded Paredes at third. Still, dark moments back in St. Louis.
But, hey, the Astros didn't get all those losses by putting on some Barry White and leaving a couple of losses alone for a while. There's more to a 100-loss team than that. They promptly gave the lead away, as the Cardinals broke out with a five-run fourth inning against rookie starter Henry Sosa. Two walks and a single loaded the bases for Yadier Molina, who blooped a single just in front of right fielder Brian Bogusevic to score one run. Skip Schumaker followed that with a double off the left-center field wall that cleared the bases.
The Cardinals loaded the bases again before the Astros could record the second out of the inning, but they could only tie the game with a sacrifice fly before David Freese struck out to end the threat.
Houston took the lead again in the fifth, but the advantage was short-lived. After loading the bases with no one out, the Astros squeaked across just one run on a Paredes double play.
After two quick outs in the seventh, the Cardinals erupted with a four-run inning for a big lead they wouldn't relinquish. Lance Berkman singled to keep the inning going, and Allen Craig doubled in the right-center gap to tie the game at 6-6. A Ryan Theriot triple knocked in two runs after that, and Nick Punto singled Theriot home to complete one of the scrappier rallies of the season, giving the Cardinals a 9-6 lead.
There was a scary moment in the seventh inning when Albert Pujols swung at an Enerio Del Rosario pitch that hit him in the elbow. After regenerating a new elbow because he's Albert Pujols, he stayed in the game, lining out to Carlos Lee on the next pitch.
In the eighth inning, Allen Craig hit a three-run homer, and Nick Punto hit a solo home run in the ninth -- his first homer since June 18 ... 2010 -- to pad the lead.
So in the season without a playoff race, there will be four teams fighting for two spots on the last day of the season. The Cardinals will be one of those four teams, as they timed a great September run with an unbelievable Braves collapse.