HOUSTON -- St. Louis right-hander Kyle Lohse pitched superbly again for seven innings Wednesday night against the Houston Astros.
But the Cardinals bullpen wasn't nearly as magnificent, with four relievers combining to give up seven hits, a walk and five runs in two innings before Eduardo Sanchez got the final out, and his first Major League save, with the tying run on second base in a 6-5 victory.
"We're in the process of getting the bullpen straight," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "Giving guys a chance to make a mistake, or give the other guys credit for some great at-bats."
The Cardinals needed every run, with Matt Holliday and Tyler Greene hitting solo home runs and Albert Pujols, Holliday and Lance Berkman hitting consecutive RBI singles in a four-run seventh inning that built a 6-0 lead.
Lohse, fighting the flu, dominated the Astros, giving up just four hits.
"You know how when you're sick, you're sore, not 100 percent," Lohse said. "[Catcher Yadier Molina] did a great job, and our defense made some great plays. I didn't have my best command, and that was an example [walking opposing pitcher J.A. Happ in the third inning]. It's not what you want to do."
"He's a good pitcher," Astros first baseman Brett Wallace said. "He attacks the zone and has a lot of pitches he can throw for strikes and works quick and is confident in all of them. You really just have to grind it out and try to get a pitch to put in play hard."
La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan felt it was time for a change after seven.
"Dave and I both felt like, in the seventh for the first time, the crispness was gone and the ball was up," La Russa said. "He had that complete game last time and I said, 'Look, this is foolish.' He did a very good job."
Lohse, who tossed a two-hitter last Thursday to down Washington, threw 97 pitches against the Astros.
"My pitch count was getting up there," he said. "I've thrown a lot of pitches over the last couple starts. It was a good chance to get some of those [bullpen] guys in there."
Then the trouble began.
"That's baseball," Lohse said. "The other team over there is not going to lay down and just give it to us. They put up a good fight, and we did a good job getting the last six outs, one way or another."
It wasn't pretty.
Struggling Ryan Franklin, the former closer, came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth, but gave up a double to left and single to center and was gone after only two batters.
Holliday, who put together another tremendous game at the plate, said he should have caught the ball off the bat of Joe Inglett that started the Astros onslaught.
"I lost it when I slid," Holliday said. "I didn't see it."
Left-hander Trever Miller, the former Astro, pitched to only one batter, walking Michael Bourn to load the bases. That brought in Fernando Salas, and three runs scored before he got pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic to pop up to end the inning with St. Louis' lead cut in half at 6-3.
Enter 22-year-old Sanchez to pitch the bottom of the ninth.
A one-out single, a triple and a sacrifice fly brought in two more runs. Now it was 6-5, and nobody was warming up in the St. Louis bullpen. It was Sanchez's game, win or lose.
"I tried to stay aggressive," said Sanchez, using bullpen mate Miguel Batista as an interpreter. "Throw strikes and make them hit the ball.
"I knew I was the last guy. I believed I could get the job done. I didn't think that would be the way it went."
With two outs, Houston's Angel Sanchez lined a fly ball to right that sailed over the head of Berkman for a double, putting the tying run on second base.
"It went straight over my head, which is the toughest play you've got to make as an outfielder," said Berkman, who made a running catch in the right-field corner two innings earlier. "If I wasn't playing in, in, it would have been a routine catch. We were guarding against a flare hit."
Sanchez struck out Hunter Pence, who leads the Astros in RBIs, to end it.
"When you're working to get [the bullpen] straight, it's nice to give guys some room for a mistake at the end," La Russa said.
Just another day at the office for the Cardinals.
"I'm used to these games," Berkman said. "You play the Astros-Cardinals, you're going to have some exciting baseball. This ballpark is conducive to comebacks. Anybody can hit a home run here. You know you've got to try pushing the lead."
Gene Duffey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.