Sunday, September 19, 1999

Cardinals 13, Astros 6

        ST. LOUIS — For the second straight game, the St. Louis Cardinals beat up on a 20-game winner.

        Darren Oliver won for the first time in seven starts and the Cardinals chased Mike Hampton in the fourth inning of a 13-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Saturday.

        Just like teammate Jose Lima a day earlier, Hampton (20-4) missed a chance to tie Boston's Pedro Martinez for the major league lead in victories.

        “I guess Jose and I are entitled to a couple bad games after making more than 30 starts,” Hampton said.

        The Astros lost their third in a row and had their NL Central lead cut to 21/2 games by Cincinnati, which beat Pittsburgh 3-0. Manager Larry Dierker held a closed-door meeting after the game.

        “We've won 12 out of 15 and we're still in the driver's seat,” Dierker said. “We'd better start driving.”

        Hampton was handed a three-run lead in the first but lasted just 3 1-3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. He was charged with eight runs. Lima, the NL's other 20-game winner, left during a nine-run fourth inning in an 11-8 Cardinals victory Friday.

        “I could tell warming up that I didn't have my best stuff,” Hampton said. “But I felt like I was settling down until Drew hit that home run. That was probably the best pitch I made all day, a fastball, and I think he only got one hand on the bat when he swung.”

        Mark McGwire played six innings and was 1-for-3 with an RBI double for the Cardinals, remaining at 56 home runs.

        J.D. Drew tied it with a three-run homer in the second, and the Cardinals knocked out Hampton during an eight-run fourth that put them ahead 11-4, on just five hits. Astros pitchers walked three, hit a batter and Hampton sent one runner home on a wild pitch.

        Second baseman Russ Johnson contributed to the inning with two unsuccessful behind-the-back forceout attempts, with both flips off line. One was ruled a hit and the second was an error; he was yanked in a double switch later in the inning.

        Thomas Howard had an RBI single as a pinch-hitter in the fourth, reaching base safely for the eighth straight plate appearance. The streak ended when Howard, who was 4-for-4 on Friday, reached on an error in the sixth. He started a new one with a two-run homer in the seventh.

        Howard, whose locker is next to McGwire's, scoffed off suggestions that he was the man of the hour.

        “No,” he said. “I'm the man next to the man. You're going to have your peaks and valleys in the this game and maybe I'm at a peak right now.”

        The first five Astros batters reached base safely in the first against Oliver (8-9), including a two-run single by Carl Everett and an RBI single by Ken Caminiti. Third baseman Fernando Tatis prolonged the inning when he dropped the throw tagging out a runner on a pickoff play.

        “That inning had blowup, "This is not my day,' written all over it, and that's all they scored,” manager Tony La Russa said. “That's as impressive as anything he's done this year.”

        Oliver, who struck out eight and walked five, allowed only one run the last five innings to win for the first time since Aug. 3.

        “Anytime you give up three runs against a team like that with the starting pitchers they have, it's going to be tough,” Oliver said. “Fortunately, we got Hampton on a bad day.”

        A sellout crowd of 45,536 pushed the Cardinals' attendance above 3 million for the fourth time in franchise history, with six home games to go. They've topped 3 million the last two years because of McGwire mania.

        Notes: Drew's 12th homer was his first since Aug. 11. He tied his career best with four RBIs. ... Cardinals OF Ray Lankford, who had minor rectal surgery on Wednesday, didn't start for the fifth straight game but grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh. ... Caminiti was 2-for-3 and is batting .386 (27-for-80) with 27 RBIs in the last 20 games.


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