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STL@LAD: Garcia fans five over six strong innings

With the Dodgers and the Brewers nipping at their heels in the National League Wild Card race, the Cardinals continue to take care of business against the Astros.

On Thursday, St. Louis will try to finish off a three-game sweep of Houston at Busch Stadium. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he thinks his players are cherishing the stretch run.

The Cardinals lead the Dodgers by two games and the Brewers by 2 1/2 games entering play on Thursday.

"I love the energy and the immediacy of, 'We have to do it now,'" Matheny said. "That's great pressure that guys like these guys, competitors, thrive on."

Left-hander Jamie Garcia gets the ball for the Cardinals. Garcia has a 2.63 ERA at home this season, as opposed to a 5.67 mark on the road. The Cards manipulated the rotation so Garcia could start at Busch Stadium.

Garcia hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts at home.

The Astros, who are 8-9 in September, will send Bud Norris to the mound if he can recover from the flu-like symptoms that bothered him on Wednesday. If Norris can't take the mound, Edgar Gonzalez, set to start on Friday, will pitch in the series finale.

"Bud's hanging in there," Astros interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said. "He had a flu bug that's been bugging him for the last few days, and hopefully he's going to make the start."

Norris is 7-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 13 career starts against the Cardinals. He hasn't won a game since May 21, going 0-11 with a 6.04 ERA in 17 starts. The Astros skipped Norris' last turn in the rotation as he dealt with a blister on his finger.

Astros: Greene scratched from lineup
• Infielder Tyler Greene was originally slated to start at second base on Wednesday, but he was scratched with a right knee problem. DeFrancesco said Greene had loose particles in the knee.

"My plan was to get Greene and [shortstop] Jed [Lowrie] in the lineup at the same time and try to increase our home run power in the middle of the diamond," DeFrancesco said.

Since Lowrie's return from a knee injury, Greene's playing time has decreased. He is hitting .220 (9-for-41) with two solo homers in September.

Cardinals: Berkman refuses to rule out return
• The Cardinals characterized Lance Berkman's right knee surgery last week as a season-ending operation. Berkman isn't so sure about that.

"I'm not ruling out a return by the end of the regular season with the way it feels. I'm not ruling it in either," Berkman said on Wednesday. "I'm hopeful that if I can get the swelling calmed down from the surgery. All of these are big ifs, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility."

The procedure repaired a torn meniscus and removed additional cartilage. The recovery time is usually four to six weeks. Berkman was hit in the knee by a pitch from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on July 24.

Worth noting
• Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso has faced Norris more than he has any other pitcher in the Majors. He is batting .429 (6-for-14) with a homer and four RBIs against the Astros right-hander.

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