Albert Pujols hit two home runs and the Cardinals tagged Chris Sampson for three runs early to defeat the Houston Astros 6-4 Wednesday night.
After a strong outing in his first start, Sampson (0-1) was rocked, pitching four innings and allowing six hits and three runs. He walked one and struck out another.
Sampson was also pitching with flu-like symptoms, and said that made it difficult to perform.
"I was tired, drained,” Sampson said. "I went as long as I could as hard as I could. It's very frustrating...it's tough to breathe, you're coughing stuff up, and your nose is running. I felt weak all week long and I ran out of gas."
The Cardinals scored in the first inning with three consecutive singles. Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan, and Pujols got hits their first times up.
After Sampson retired Rick Ankiel on strikes, Troy Glaus singled to left, driving in Duncan. Pujols tried to advance to third but was thrown out by Carlos Lee.
In the third inning, Schumaker struck out and Duncan walked. Duncan advanced to second when Pujols grounded out to third.
Ankiel made it 3-0 when he doubled to left, plating Duncan. Ankiel drove in another run in the fifth with Brian Moehler pitching. Schumaker, who doubled, scored on Ankiel’s single, making it 4-0.
The Astros finally got on the board in the fifth inning. Miguel Tejada led off with a double and advanced to third on Geoff Blum’s fly out to left. Mark Loretta drove in Tejada with a sacrifice fly to right, cutting the Cardinals' lead to 4-1.
The Astros had a two-out rally in the sixth to bring them within one run. After Tomas Perez and Michael Bourn grounded out, Hunter Pence got a double to center. Lance Berkman got a double to right to score Pence, and Lee followed with a single to center to score Berkman.
This ended Cardinals’ starter Braden Looper’s night.
But Looper would have the last laugh. Looper (2-0) had a strong start to get the win, pitching five-and-two-thirds innings, allowing five hits, three runs, and striking out four.
Pujols hit his first two home runs of the season after he had a pre-game incident with Houston’s Brandon Backe. Backe was upset with Pujols after the Cardinals first baseman slid into J.R. Towles in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game.
Pujols denied questions as to whether the exchange contributed to his performance.
"No matter who gets me mad or doesn't get me mad, I'm going to go out there and play the game the right way every time," Pujols said.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa also disagreed with the notion of the pre-game exchange being the motivating factor behind Pujols' performance.
"How does that explain him hitting .300 every year?" La Russa said. "He plays with an edge all the time. He's a great player. He's a fierce competitor. You think there's incidents before every game?"
Jason Isringhausen got his fifth save by pitching a scoreless ninth.
The Astros (3-7) have an off-day on Thursday and will host the Florida Marlins (5-3) Friday at 7:05 pm CST. Roy Oswalt (0-2) will start for the Astros against the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco (0-0).