HOUSTON -- Jason Marquis went more than a month without winning a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. He didn't trust his pitches and found himself on the mound waiting for the next bad thing to happen.
The right-hander is feeling much better after consecutive complete-game victories.
Marquis limited Houston to five hits in the Cardinals' 4-1 victory Sunday that kept the Astros from becoming the NL wild-card leader. He lost seven starts in a row before the two complete games.
"I needed this more mentally than anything," Marquis said. "When you start struggling, you doubt yourself a little bit, and that's not a good thing. ... To have these results in back-to-back games, it is a confidence boost."
Marquis (11-13) threw a two-hit shutout in his last appearance, Aug. 27 at Washington -- his first win since beating the Astros on July 16. On Sunday, he struck out five and didn't allow any walks while throwing 71 of his 98 pitches for strikes in his third career complete game, all this season.
"That's how he pitched early in the year. He just got in a funk," manager Tony La Russa said. "In the middle of that funk, he had a couple of games like this and we couldn't score for him. ... This is what he's capable of doing."
Marquis was hit on his left fingers swinging at a pitch in the seventh inning. He said it was only a bruise and that the wrap engulfing his entire hand was only a precaution.
The Astros remained tied with Florida, a half-game behind wild-card leader Philadelphia after the Marlins and Phillies both lost Sunday. Houston opens a three-game series in Philadelphia on Monday.
"It's a miracle that we're just a half-game back as poorly as we played," third baseman Morgan Ensberg said. "We're not producing any runs."
St. Louis, with the best record in the major leagues at 87-50, took two of three in the weekend series between the NL Central's top two teams and leads the season series 11-3. The Cardinals have a 14½-game lead over the Astros (72-64), who are trying to win the wild card for the second consecutive year.
"We're going to have to take a personal inventory as a team," manager Phil Garner said. "This is no time to fool around. We were fortunate to lose two out of three and not lose any ground. ... (Monday) is the most important game we will play this year."
Houston rookie Wandy Rodriguez (9-7) faced the minimum 15 hitters through five innings, benefiting from double-play grounders after leadoff singles in the first and third innings. But then the left-hander found himself in trouble after issuing a walk and hitting a batter to start the sixth.
Marquis had a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners before Jim Edmonds doubled into the right-center field gap to put the Cardinals up 2-1. Edmonds came home on a single by Yadier Molina that went through Rodriguez's legs into center field.
Molina added another RBI single in the eighth inning.
Marquis retired 16 of the next 17 batters after that, allowing only a solo homer by Berkman with two outs in the fourth. It was Berkman's 16th homer, and the second day in a row he went the opposite way with a homer into the left-field stands.
"He was throwing every pitch for a strike, and he threw it at the right spot," Astros shortstop Adam Everett said.
The Cardinals finished their season-high 13-game road trip with nine victories. They are the only NL team with a winning road record (46-25).
"This club has a real special knack for coming out every day and looking the same," La Russa said. "Here it is the end of a two-week road trip, and we look just like we did the first day."
- It was the second consecutive complete game and 14th this season for the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter went the distance Saturday night in a 4-2 victory to become the first 20-game winner in the majors this season.
- The Astros have contributed $200,000 to organizations assisting victims of Hurricane Katrina. Team owner Drayton McLane Jr., matched a $100,000 donation collected by his players and coaches. The wives of nine players also took part in a relief drive outside the stadium before Sunday's game.
- Cardinals SS David Eckstein has a nine-game hitting streak. He hit .393 (24-for-61) on the trip.
- A sprinkler came on in the Cardinals bullpen during the eighth inning, sending pitchers scurrying for a dry area. The problem was solved within a couple of minutes.