Bullpen blows eight-inning Mulder gem

HOUSTON (AP) -- After Orlando Palmeiro got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 13th inning to tie the game for Houston, Eric Bruntlett made sure his teammate's pain was worth it.

Bruntlett's RBI single on a full-count pitch with two outs gave the Astros a 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.

"Those are the kind of moments that make all the 0-for-15s worthwhile," said Bruntlett, a utility infielder who is hitting just .193 this season. "It's a big situation, and I got the job done."

The Astros had already extended the game with homers in the ninth and 10th innings against closer Jason Isringhausen. They won it in the 13th against three pitchers.

With the bases loaded, Palmeiro was the only batter Ray King faced. The Astros outfielder gladly showed the still fire-red spot on his right forearm after the game when he was asked what he thought after getting hit.

"Good question. I don't remember," Palmeiro said. "Once I actually did think, I thought, 'Cool, we tied the game.'"

Brad Ausmus then flied out to short right field against Al Reyes. Bruntlett hit a sinking liner to left that outfielder John Rodriguez couldn't come up with despite a diving attempt.

St. Louis had taken a 5-4 lead when Jim Edmonds led off the 13th with his second homer of the game. It came off Chad Qualls (4-4), who finished the inning and ended up with a victory.

"This is one of the toughest losses, and one of the best losses I can remember, just because what the club showed," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It was impressive watching them compete like that. I'm just talking about our team. They did the same thing."

Morgan Ensberg, who homered in the ninth, led off the bottom of the 13th with a single off Julian Tavarez (2-3) but was retired at second on a call disputed by manager Phil Garner. After Tavarez bobbled a bunt by pinch-hitter Raul Chavez, he still threw to second where umpire Angel Hernandez called Ensberg out, though a replay clearly showed that he was safe.

Jason Lane then singled and Jose Vizcaino was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Mark Mulder retired 20 of the last 21 batters he faced but was denied his 16th victory after Isringhausen took over to start the ninth. Two pitches later, Ensberg hit a 1-0 pitch for his 35th homer to tie the game at 3.

"My biggest thing, he worked his butt off for eight innings, and I go out and give up the lead, not once but twice," said Isringhausen, who has four blown saves. "It doesn't happen often. I'll turn the page and go out tomorrow. Tonight's over."

The Cardinals regained the lead in the 10th when Albert Pujols
had a leadoff double off Dan Wheeler before consecutive bunts, the second a squeeze by Rodriguez. Pujols was charging home when Rodriguez placed the bunt between the mound and third base.

Isringhausen again couldn't hold the lead, allowing Ausmus' second homer of the season in the 10th.

After skipping his last start because of a stiff neck, Mulder struck out eight and walked two. He didn't allow a runner after Lance Berkman drew a two-out walk in the third.

Yadier Molina homered for the Cardinals (85-50), who still have the best record in the major leagues. His solo homer came in the second, and Edmonds' 23rd came after Pujols led off the sixth with a single to put St. Louis up 3-2.

Houston remained a half-game behind Philadelphia, which beat Washington, in the wild-card standings. The Astros are 12½ games behind the first-place Cardinals.

"It was just a much more important game for us than them," Ausmus said. "I don't think they are worried about making the playoffs. We're fighting for our lives."

Mulder was supposed to start last Saturday at Washington, but his neck tightened up in the clubhouse the previous night. His start was then pushed back to Sunday, but the Cardinals decided to skip his turn rather than risk further injury.

The only trouble Mulder had against Houston was in the second when he walked Berkman to start the inning and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek bobbled a potential double play grounder for an error. Chris Burke then singled to load the bases before Adam Everett's
RBI grounder and Ausmus' run-scoring single.

Ezequiel Astacio struck out six over 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs and eight hits. The rookie right-hander has allowed a team-high 21 home runs.

Game notes
St. Louis is 39-18 against the NL Central, winning 24 of the last 29 games against division foes. The Cardinals are 9-3 against Houston. ... Ensberg's homer produced his 95th RBI, matching Sean Berry's team record by a third baseman. ... Astros right-hander Brandon Backe threw five shutout innings Friday night as he continued his injury rehabilitation in Double-A Corpus Christi. Backe, recovering from a strained left ribcage, threw 40 of his 62 pitches for strikes with seven strikeouts and no walks. He is expected to start in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

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