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Updated: Saturday, September 20, 2003 2:16 AM EDT
Houston Astros
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
8 13 0
St. Louis Cardinals
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
1 6 0
W Oswalt (9-5)
L Morris (10-8)
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ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- If the St. Louis Cardinals spend October at home, it will be very easy to explain why.

The Cardinals continued to be confounded by the Houston Astros , who cruised to an 8-1 victory as Roy Oswalt allowed one run in seven innings and Jeff Bagwell homered and drove in three runs.

Houston improved to 11-5 against National League Central Division rival St. Louis this season. The Astros swept a three-game series last weekend at Houston before taking the opener of this three-game set.

Oswalt (9-5) won his third straight start since coming off the disabled list. The Astros' ace is rounding into shape at the right time, scattering four singles and a double, walking two and striking out five as he coasted with an early lead.

"The defense was great today," Oswalt said. "I felt great tonight, I got a little stronger as the game went on. Scoring early was big for us. It put the crowd out of it. I knew if I could get some quick outs we'd be OK."

Brad Lidge struck out two in the eighth and closer Billy Wagner cruised through the ninth in a non-save situation.

Bagwell staked the Astros to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with his 37th homer, a two-run shot off Cardinals starter Matt Morris (10-8). Bagwell added an RBI double in the fifth.

"It's nice to get a lead in the first," Bagwell said. "It was big to give Roy a lead. He made it stand up. Four runs in two innings, you don't expect to do that against Matty."

"Oswalt pitched good for us," Houston manager Jimy Williams said. "Our defense played great. We were able to score runs early and that's how you win games. We got some key hits and tacked some on later. Morris is tough. Fortunately for us we scored early on them"

The Astros are one game ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the Central. The Cardinals fell six games behind Houston with seven to play.

"We've been playing really well of late" Williams said. "We are going up against a really good team here so hopefully we can keep it going through the weekend"

Morris was tagged for six runs and eight hits in five innings.

"They made good adjustments," Morris said. "Early on it wasn't working. So I tried to to make an adjustment after that but they just kept coming. They're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You give up four early runs to those guys and it's tough to win. Today just wasn't my day. I made good pitches they just hit them."

Houston jumped on top immediately as Craig Biggio was hit by a pitch and, one out later, Bagwell lined his 20th homer since the All-Star break and 417th of his career.

"That was a heck of a piece of hitting," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Bagwell's homer. "He hit a pitcher's pitch and hit it out of the park. They made things happen."

After Albert Pujols grounded into a double play in the bottom of the first, Houston tacked on two runs in the second. Richard Hidalgo , who homered three times on Tuesday, opened the inning with his 28th of the year,

Brad Ausmus followed Hidalgo's blast with a single and red-hot Adam Everett made it 4-0 with a triple to right. Everett is (31-for-96) with 17 RBI last 30 games.

"Matty is nasty," Biggio said. "He's not going give you much to hit. Usually it's going to be low scoring affair. We were lucky to add a few more and hold on."

A two-out RBI double by Eduardo Perez in the second got St. Louis on the board, but Oswalt held St. Louis in check the rest of the way.

The Cardinals did threaten in the fourth as Pujols and J.D. Drew singled. But Oswalt induced Scott Rolen to bounce into a double play and got Edgar Renteria on a ground ball to shortstop.

Bagwell had an RBI double and scored on a base hit by Jeff Kent in the fifth.

Hidalgo and Brad Ausmus had RBI singles in the ninth to cap the scoring.

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