ST. LOUIS -- When Joel Pineiro's sinker is working, St. Louis Cardinals infielders get plenty of ground balls. The pitcher, too, with Pineiro's glovework triggering two double plays that helped him win his seventh straight decision.
"He's probably tied for first as the best athlete as a pitcher in either league," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's quick as a cat."
Pineiro (13-9) allowed two runs on seven hits and Mark DeRosa's two-run double capped a three-run first for the NL Central leaders, 15-3 in their last 18 games. Matt Holliday added an RBI single and Albert Pujols had two hits after entering the game only 5 for 33 against Houston this season.
St. Louis is a season-best 20 games above .500 at 74-54.• Adult down syndrome center named after Pujols
"That was one of our goals," closer Ryan Franklin said. "We'll shoot for 25."
The Cardinals have won Pineiro's last 10 starts and 11 of the last 12. The right-hander is 7-0 with a 2.65 ERA in 10 outings since July 3, and walked none for the 13th start while striking out five.
"I was attacking the strike zone, trying to make them put the ball on the ground," Pineiro said. "I just keep telling myself, 'Why did I wait eight years to learn a sinker like this?"'
Oswalt complained that the team was going through the motions.
"The atmosphere is dead," Oswalt said. "When you're dead, you come to the field hoping to get by. The owner pays us money to come play, we've got to play.
"You can't keep feeling sorry for yourself."
Franklin got the last two outs for his NL-leading 34th save in 36 chances, stranding Lee at third, and has earned a save in 10 straight appearances.
St. Louis stranded eight runners in the fourth through sixth against Oswalt (7-5), who allowed 10 hits in six innings but no runs after the first. Oswalt had been 4-0 in his previous nine starts, but missed a chance at winning five straight decisions -- a streak he's put together every season.
Four of the first five Cardinals got hits to open the first. The Astros began the fourth with four straight hits, with RBI from Berkman and Lee cutting the deficit to a run.
The Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out and a full count on Pineiro in the fourth before Oswalt recovered to strike out the pitcher and then got Skip Schumaker to ground out. They loaded them again in the fifth before Yadier Molina grounded out on a 2-0 delivery.
"Good pitching will do that to you," manager Cecil Cooper said. "We just need to get a big hit from somewhere."
- Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan rejoined the team after missing Tuesday's game due to personal reasons. Manager La Russa can't remember Duncan, his aide since 1986, missing any other games.
- Cardinals RHP Kyle Lohse, on the DL with a groin injury, stretched with full range of motion and ran before the game. Lohse said he could make his next start on Saturday but was put on the DL as a precaution.
- John Smoltz figures to start Friday with Mitchell Boggs going Saturday. La Russa said those slots could be reversed if the 42-year-old Smoltz needed an extra day but Boggs threw a bullpen session Wednesday.
- Pineiro leads the majors with 1.0 walks per nine innings.