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STL@HOU: Jay takes a hit away from Lowrie

HOUSTON -- St. Louis lefty Jaime Garcia just hasn't been able to figure out the Houston Astros.

Garcia, following Saturday's 8-2 loss to the surging Astros, is now 0-4 lifetime against Houston with a 6.89 ERA in six starts, including three last year at Minute Maid Park. He never made it past 5 1/3 innings in any of those outings.

Garcia didn't have an answer, either.

"Not really, I just worry about today, and today I didn't get it done," said Garcia, who threw six innings on Saturday, but still suffered the same fate.

He gave up just four hits, but one was a first-inning grand slam by Houston third baseman Chris Johnson on a two-out, 0-2 pitch. His downfall was the three walks issued leading up to Johnson's slam.

"The problem was the walks," he said. "I did a terrible job there. I didn't get the job done."

The 0-2 pitch to Johnson was supposed to be wasted in the dirt. But Garcia put it where Johnson could handle it.

"I didn't execute the pitch when I needed to," he said.

"It was supposed to be on the ground," catcher Yadier Molina said. "We tried to, but it didn't work this time."

"He was one pitch away from getting out of that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That 0-2 pitch, that's really kind of deflating. You come out and score in the first and to have the four [runs] thrown right back in your face sometimes takes away from the sails of the offense."

Johnson made amends for a first-inning error that led to the Cardinals' unearned run in the first.

"It's always on my mind," Johnson said of the error. "Bud [Norris] made a good pitch, had two strikes on [Jon] Jay, and I booted it. I really, really wanted to do something good in that at-bat, and he threw a slider out over the plate, and I was able to get it over."

He said he was surprised to get something to hit on an 0-2 pitch.

"I didn't think I was going to get anything right away," Johnson said. "I thought I was going to have to battle a little bit and at least foul some pitches off or take some tough pitches. I'm pretty sure he wasn't trying to throw that pitch right there, but you're always ready for a mistake."

Garcia retired seven batters in a row after the first inning before yielding a pair of hits and two runs in the fourth, but then didn't allow a hit over his final two innings of work.

"I felt good, I wasn't able to get the job done when I needed to," he said. "I didn't give my team a chance to win."

"His sinker was pounding the strike zone down and he did a pretty good job," Molina added.

There were few bright spots for St. Louis, which dropped its season-high third straight game -- the most since last August. The Cardinals look to avoid the three-game series sweep on Sunday afternoon and break Houston's five-game win streak.

Rafael Furcal extended a little-known club record. The Cardinals' shortstop has now led off six consecutive games with a hit, extending a record he first set Friday. Furcal singled to open Saturday's game and later scored on a Carlos Beltran single. It was the fifth consecutive game in which St. Louis has scored first.

"You can't expect him to do that every time, but he's done a great job of keeping a real simple approach," Matheny said. "He's working the count, doing everything you want a leadoff guy to do."

But Furcal's first-inning success offered little solace in St. Louis' third straight loss. The Cardinals managed just two hits between the second and eighth innings -- singles by second baseman Daniel Descalso and first baseman Matt Carpenter -- before Jay (single) and Matt Holliday (double) rubbed two hits together to produce the only other run of the night.

Carpenter was batting eighth in the lineup, the first time a Cardinals first baseman has hit in that slot (excluding Interleague games) since Miguel Cairo did it in 2002.

Norris threw six strong innings to get the win, yielding just three hits and an unearned run.

"You can't really put your finger on it, or else we'd fix it," Matheny said of Norris' mastery. "But there's just some guys you have a hard time with."

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