Morgan Ensberg had a tiebreaking double in the ninth inning, his fourth hit of the game, and the Houston Astros beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-6 Wednesday night to maintain a 2½-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL wild-card race.
"I feel like nothing has changed," said Ensberg, who reached 100 RBI for the first time in his major league career. "We need to win tomorrow and keep on winning. I don't look at it that we somehow did a great thing because of the win. It was necessary for us."
With the score 6-6, Willy Taveras led off the ninth with his major league-leading 69th infield hit and scored without a play on Ensberg's double into the left-field corner off Jason Isringhausen (1-2).
Houston swept a two-game series against the NL Central champions, finishing the season 5-11 against St. Louis, and will close the regular season with a four-game series at home against the Cubs that starts Thursday. The Astros were 6-3 on their final trip of the season.
"We've still got work to do," manager Phil Garner said. "Tomorrow is our biggest game of the year. Then, the next day will probably be even bigger."
Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb homered in consecutive at-bats off Carpenter as the Astros improved to 87-71, a season-best 16 games above .500. Chad Qualls (6-4) worked a perfect eighth, and Brad Lidge finished for his 40th save in 43 chances.
Philadelphia (85-74) routed the New York Mets 16-6 and is off Thursday. The Phillies finish with three games at Washington.
Reggie Sanders hit his first home runs since early July, connecting on consecutive at-bats for the Cardinals, who got another spotty outing from Carpenter. The Cardinals are 3-8 since clinching the division and must sweep a season-ending series at home against the Reds to give the franchise consecutive 100-win seasons for the second time, the first since 1942-44.
Sanders' progress was about the only positive for the Cardinals, who have lost three straight at home. He returned to the lineup Sept. 12 after missing 54 games with a broken leg, and has five RBI in his last three games.
"That's two huge hits," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's a good sign for us."
Carpenter has failed in four attempts at getting his 22nd win while reaching a career-high 241 2/3 innings. Carpenter was shaky from the start, giving up a line-drive single to Craig Biggio on his first pitch. In all, he allowed six runs -- five earned - and nine hits in six innings.
After his last start, Carpenter said it had been tough maintaining his focus after the Cardinals clinched the NL Central on Sept. 15.
"I'm confident in my stuff, I was confident in my delivery, I was confident in the pitches I made, it was just one of those nights," Carpenter said. "I think guys are eager and ready to get going, and I'm one of them."
Carpenter is 0-1 with a 9.14 ERA since throwing seven scoreless innings against the Mets on Sept. 8, hiking his overall ERA from 2.21 to 2.83. Against the Astros he was better with the bat, hitting his first two career doubles and scoring twice.
"It was a strange night," Carpenter said. "I put good swings on two balls and hit them hard. It was nice, but it would have been nice to win."
Houston took a 4-2 lead against Carpenter in the fifth on consecutive home runs by Berkman and Lamb, the first leaving the frustrated pitcher barking into his glove at himself. But aside from the long balls, the Astros agreed with the Cardinals' assessment that they won largely with small ball.
"It's probably a deceiving line," Ensberg said. "We ended up basically bleeding him to death."
A four-run fifth highlighted by Sanders' second homer and 20th overall, a two-run shot off Scott Strickland, put the Cardinals ahead 6-4. Carpenter's second double of the game off Houston starter Brandon Backe started a rally that included an RBI single by Jim Edmonds and a sacrifice fly by Larry Walker.
Carpenter, who won 13 straight games from June 14-Sept. 8, couldn't hold a lead for the second straight outing, surrendering a sacrifice fly to Biggio and a tying single by Taveras in the sixth.
- Carpenter finished 12-1 with a 2.75 ERA against the NL Central.
- A crowd of 40,616 was the Cardinals' 39th straight of 40,000 or more and the final weekend, a three-game series against the Reds, is a sellout.
- Sanders has 26 multihomer games, two this year.
- Carpenter was a career .067 hitter and was batting .040 this year (3-for-75) before doubling and scoring in both of his at-bats.
- The Astros finished 115-145 at Busch Stadium, which is being demolished after the season.