HOUSTON – Reggie Sanders hit a grand slam and pitcher Jason Marquis added a two-run homer during an eight-run third inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals held off the Houston Astros 11-9.

Sanders went 4-for-4 with five RBIs, Marquis was 3-for-3 with two hits in the third and Albert Pujols homered in the eighth to help preserve the victory for the Cardinals, who have won 11 of 15.

Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his 17th save in 18 chances, rebounding quickly after his first blown save against Colorado on Thursday.

The Cardinals have won five straight and six of seven against the last-place Astros, a totally different club than the one they beat in seven games in the NL championship series last fall.

Now missing the big bats of All-Stars Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent, Houston ranks last in the majors in hitting and scoring – and last in the NL Central standings.

But the Astros responded with one of their best offensive performances of late, tying their third-highest scoring output of the season.

And it still wasn’t enough against the division-leading Cardinals.

Marquis (7-3) gave up six runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings for his second straight win. He made up for a shaky performance on the mound with a career high-tying three hits and did just enough to outpitch struggling Astros rookie Wandy Rodriguez.

Coming off his first career win in his previous start last Saturday, Rodriguez (1-2) was roughed up early during a dreadful home debut.

Sanders’ run-scoring double in the first was only a preview of the outburst to come in the third.

The Cardinals sent 11 batters to the plate, starting with consecutive singles by Marquis and David Eckstein. With runners at second and third and one out, Pujols was intentionally walked to load the bases. Sanders followed with the second grand slam of his 13-year career, giving St. Louis a 5-1 lead.

Rodriguez was clearly shaken after that, cursing loudly, and angrily shaking his head after watching the ball sail out of the park.

Mark Grudzielanek followed with a single, Larry Walker added a run-scoring triple, Scott Seabol had an RBI single and Marquis chased Rodriguez with a two-run shot that put the Cardinals up 9-1.

Brandon Backe ended the inning by getting Eckstein on a popup.

Rodriguez allowed nine runs and nine hits in 2 2-3 innings, striking out four and walking two. He has an ERA of 10.67 in three starts since he was called up from Triple-A Round Rock on May 23.

The Astros simply couldn’t overcome Rodriguez’s poor start.

Lance Berkman and Adam Everett had run-scoring singles, and Jason Lane grounded into a double play to score Craig Biggio in the fourth, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 9-4. Chris Burke added an RBI double in the fifth.

Abraham Nunez, pinch-hitting for Seabol, singled in Sanders to give St. Louis a 10-5 lead in the sixth.

But the Astros got an RBI single from rookie catcher Humberto Quintero in the bottom half, and Berkman added a two-run homer in the seventh to close the gap to 10-8.

Pujols connected in the eighth off Chad Harville to give Isringhausen a little more cushion.

Houston’s Morgan Ensberg homered in the second for his 11th of the year, second among NL third basemen.

Notes: Marquis became the first St. Louis pitcher to have two hits in an inning since Andy Benes did it against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 6, 2002. … By allowing eight runs in the third, Houston gave up its most runs in an inning since Texas also scored eight in a 14-3 win on May 21.

AP-ES-06-04-05 1944EDT

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