04/15/10 6:55 PM ET
Astros capture first win of season
Norris, Keppinger star in Houston's victory over St. Louis
By Nate Latsch / Special to MLB.com
The Astros have *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys on outfielder Jason Michaels' iPod, which helped lighten the mood before Thursday's series finale against the Cardinals.
Then Houston went out and snapped its season-opening eight-game losing streak with an impressive 5-1 victory over St. Louis at Busch Stadium, which included strong performances from starter Bud Norris and the bullpen and some timely hitting that had been missing in the first eight games.
"We have to keep it a little looser in here," Norris said. "We have a good group of guys, and we're coming together. All of the new guys have been great. ... The fact that it was that way was nice. I liked it. I had no problems with it. It kept me loose."
The Astros (1-8) are no longer the only winless team in the Majors Leagues, and their losing streak -- the worst to start a season since the club lost the first nine games of the 1983 campaign -- is no longer weighing on them.
"It's definitely not fun to go out there and be pressing every game and think, as a pitcher, you have to make a perfect pitch every pitch or, as a hitter, get a hit in every at-bat," shortstop Jeff Keppinger said of the pregame mood. "If you can just go out there and relax, the game will come to you -- instead of trying to go out there and make something happen."
Prior to the games on Monday afternoon and Wednesday night, the clubhouse was quiet for Houston, which had lost 13 of its past 17 games at Busch Stadium since 2008. On Thursday morning, the soothing sounds of the boy bands on Michaels' iPod changed the overall feeling in the room.
"It was just so quiet in here, nothing going on," Michaels said. "I thought some music would wake the guys up."
There's no telling, of course, that Michaels' musical diversion made the difference in snapping the losing streak. But the Astros defeated the Cardinals on Thursday to earn manager Brad Mills his first win, and Houston heads to Chicago for a three-game series with a much more positive outlook.
"If that's it, I don't know," Michaels said. "It will be played tomorrow, I'll tell you that."
Houston, which had scored two runs or fewer in six of its first eight games, put two runs on the scoreboard in the third inning after an RBI single by Norris and a two-out RBI double by Keppinger.
The Cardinals (6-3) got a run back in the fourth. Left fielder Carlos Lee dropped a fly ball with two outs from Felipe Lopez, who then scored on David Freese's RBI single to left field.
Norris (1-1) limited St. Louis to just one unearned run on four hits, striking out a career-high nine batters. But he only pitched five innings after throwing 106 pitches. He is now 3-0 against the Cardinals, with one unearned run allowed in 18 innings of work.
"If you go back and look at what Bud did to [Albert] Pujols, that says enough," Keppinger said of Norris, who struck out Pujols in his first two at-bats. "I've never seen that guy take swings like that off of anybody. So either he was having an off day or Bud's stuff was really good today -- and I'm going to go with Bud's stuff was really good. He was pinpointing that slider on the outside corner and throwing it hard. He's got good velocity on his fastball, so he was keeping them off balance and did a great job."
The Astros tacked on three runs in the eighth inning -- the five runs were the second-most runs scored by Houston in a game this season -- with a two-run single by Keppinger and an RBI double by first baseman Pedro Feliz.
"The big thing was to come through with the big hits today," Mills said. "We hadn't been able to do that, but the guys really did a good job of coming through today."
The rookie manager went to the bullpen in the sixth inning, and three relievers shut the door on the Cardinals from there.
Chris Sampson tossed two perfect frames. Brandon Lyon allowed a one-out double to Pujols in the eighth, but he retired the next two batters to get out of the inning. Closer Matt Lindstrom, who has yet to get a save opportunity, retired the side in the ninth to secure the victory.
Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.