ST. LOUIS -- J.R. Towles justified his jump from Class A to the major leagues in one brilliant game.
"I can't even describe it," Towles said. "This is the last thing I thought would happen. Coming up to the big leagues was pretty impressive and this is beyond words."
It also was the most lopsided victory ever for Houston, one more than the previous mark.
Towles hit a two-run double off Braden Looper (12-11) in the second to open the scoring. He added a two-run single in the fourth, an RBI double in the sixth and a bases-loaded walk in the eighth before hitting his first career homer in the ninth off Aaron Miles.
Miles, an infielder, was on the mound because the Cardinals were short on pitchers after allowing 10 or more runs for the second time in four games. They also went 10 innings to beat the Phillies 2-1 on Wednesday night.
"We've been beaten bad before," Miles said. "Every team has. You come in the next day and have a short memory and come in positive and try to win a ballgame."
Towles, a 23-year-old catcher, began the year at Single-A Salem and was among the September callups, going 3-for-13 with one RBI in five games before Thursday. Interim manager Cecil Cooper wasn't planning on having Towles in the lineup on Friday, but that's out the window.
"It takes some guys two weeks to get that," Cooper said. "I was going to sit him tomorrow but I don't think I can do that now."
His record-setting night came in the opener of a four-game series matching out-of-the-running teams that combined for the last three National League pennants and 10 of the last 13 NL Central titles.
The Astros finished with 23 hits and won for the fifth time in 15 games. They surpassed their previous bests for runs (15) and hits (22) established Sunday against the Pirates.
The Cardinals have lost 13 of 15 in a September swoon prompted by injuries that have left them with a shell of their regular lineup. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last defending World Series champions to lose by 17 or more runs were the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the title in 2001 and lost 19-1 to Los Angeles on Sept. 2, 2002.
Manager Tony La Russa took only two questions and made a brief comment in a postgame news conference that lasted less than a minute.
"Not much to say about that one," La Russa said. "It wasn't any fun at all."
Wandy Rodriguez (9-13) went eight innings for Houston, allowing one run and seven hits against a lineup that included four players from the opening-day roster. He beat the Cardinals for the first time in five career decisions and won for only the third time in 13 decisions on the road.
Towles' homer was a two-run shot that hit the top of the left-field fence and then bounced into the visitor's bullpen. He is the first rookie to drive in eight or more runs since James Loney had nine RBI for Los Angeles at Colorado on Sept. 28, 2006.
Josh Anderson singled in two runs and Chris Burke drove in a run with a base hit during a five-run seventh that included throwing errors by Cardinals outfielders Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick. Burke was a late replacement for Hunter Pence, scratched after straining his upper back running into an outfield wall on Wednesday.
Rodriguez added his second RBI of the year on a bases-loaded single in a six-run eighth.
Looper is 7-1 with a major league-leading 1.69 ERA in day games. At night the numbers spike to 5-10 with a 6.47 ERA and he labored through 5 2-3 innings against the Astros, allowing five runs and nine hits.
"Basically, I stunk," Looper said. "I never gave us a chance. Everything I threw was up."
- Anderson had two hits and three RBI and is 15-for-32 (.467) during a seven-game hitting streak.
- Three players have had seven RBIs for the Astros, the last Jeff Bagwell on July 7, 2001, at Kansas City. Bagwell also did it in 2000, and the others to drive in seven were Rafael Ramirez (1989) and Pete Incaviglia (1992).
- The runs allowed and margin of defeat are season worsts for the Cardinals, while the hits allowed tied the season high.