ST. LOUIS -- A day after the St. Louis Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter for at least three more months, a pitcher making his seventh career start gave them a pick-me-up.
Braden Looper allowed a run in six innings, helping his punchless team beat the Houston Astros 3-1 on Sunday for only its second victory in eight games. He insists he wasn't trying to step up as the de facto ace.
"It's tough enough to go out there and get these guys out and it's too easy to go out and make mistakes to guys like Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee," Looper said. "If you're thinking about something else, they're going to make you pay.
"Today was definitely one of those days that felt like I didn't have my best stuff, but I was able to battle through it and make a few good pitches when I really needed to."
Scott Rolen snapped an 0-for-25 slump with a two-run single in a three-run fourth against Chris Sampson (3-2) for the Cardinals, last in the National League in runs. Ryan Ludwick, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Memphis when Preston Wilson went on the 15-day disabled list with a knee injury earlier in the day, added a run-scoring groundout.
The Cardinals have been outscored 52-13 the last eight games, somehow taking two of three from Houston despite scoring all six runs in the series in only two innings. They have scored the first run in only seven of their first 29 games and have trailed in eight of their 12 victories. They played catch-up again Sunday after Lee's first-inning RBI single before winning for only the fifth time in 15 home games.
Looper (4-2) allowed six hits. Six of the first 15 Astros worked him to a full count. He benefited from two double plays the rest of his outing, striking out three and walking two to win for the first time in three starts.
"We scored one run," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "I think that was more us than him today. We got him deep in a lot of pitch counts but we just didn't come through with hits when we needed them."
Besides losing the series, the Astros lost out for Roger Clemens' services. Clemens agreed to a one-year, $28 million deal with the Yankees on Sunday after pitching the past three seasons for Houston.
"I'm somewhat disappointed he's not going to be with us, but I hope that he does well," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "It doesn't surprise me with the situation that their pitching is in, but I'm surprised that it was done quickly and I didn't hear anything about it in Houston."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is glad Clemens will be pitching in the American League instead of the NL Central.
"I'm a Roger Clemens fan," La Russa said. "I'm more of a fan when he's in the other league and I don't have to face him."
Looper, a former closer and setup man, rebounded from his only shaky start out of seven since moving to the rotation, leaving him with a 1.73 ERA in day games. On Tuesday, he gave up five earned runs in five innings in a 12-2 loss at Milwaukee.
That start came two days after reliever Josh Hancock's fatal auto accident.
"My last outing I didn't pitch well and it didn't have anything to do with anything else. I just pitched horrible," Looper said. "Today I was able to make a few more good pitches."
Sampson, pushed back two days after experiencing sinus trouble on Friday, lasted 64 pitches and 4 2/3 innings. He gave up three runs and five hits with a walk and a strikeout.
The Astros had runners on second and third in the eighth before Ryan Franklin got Hunter Pence on a flyout. Jason Isringhausen finished for his eighth save in nine chances. Isringhausen has 257 career saves, passing former Cardinals closer Todd Worrell for 24th place.
Adam Kennedy singled to open the fourth for the first of his three hits and Chris Duncan doubled. Sampson got Albert Pujols to pop up and walked Jim Edmonds on four pitches before Rolen singled on a 2-2 pitch. The runners moved up on a late throw to the plate.
Rolen has watched the animated movie "Chicken Little" countless times with his 2-year-old daughter Raine, and he borrowed a catch phrase, "Today is a new day," to reduce frustration.
"That's a hell of a way to look at things," Rolen said. "Take a deep breath, reflect on some great thinkers of our time."
Astros shortstop Adam Everett made a nice diving stop to his left to rob Ludwick of a hit, with Edmonds scoring for a 3-1 lead.
The Cardinals have been outscored 21-3 in the first inning. ... Lee had three hits and is 8-for-14 the last four games. He has 25 RBI in his last 22 games. ... Kennedy, the fifth leadoff hitter in five games for St. Louis, was 3-for-4. The previous four combined to go 3-for-15. ... Astros RF Luke Scott had two hits and is 8-for-17 his last five games.