Seeing Bud Norris pitch well against the Cardinals is certainly nothing new. He's done it for pretty much his entire two-year career, and it's gotten to the point where you've come to expect Norris at his absolute best when he faces his division rival.
But Norris took it to another level on Wednesday night, flirting with a no-hitter before Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman -- who's turning into a nemesis against his former team -- broke up the party with a solo homer with two outs in the seventh inning.
Berkman's homer spoiled the no-hit bid but not the night for Norris, who combined with closer Mark Melancon to throw a two-hitter and snap the Astros' four-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park.
"I noticed about the fifth inning," Norris said of the no-hit attempt. "You try to not let it get in your mind. You keep going out there and making pitches. That was the key, and they played behind me and [scored] some runs, and it was a big win for us."
Norris (4-4) improved to 6-2 with a 2.45 ERA in nine career starts against the Cardinals by holding them to one hit and one run in eight innings. He overcame a season-high five walks -- thanks in part to three double plays -- and struck out a season-low two batters.
Entering the game tied for sixth in the league in strikeouts, with 79, Norris pounded the bottom half of the zone and relied on his defense. He got the Cardinals to hit the ball on the ground 10 times, which led to 13 outs, including the double plays.
"I give a lot of credit to the guys playing defense, and [catcher] J.R. [Towles] called a great game," Norris said. "We threw a lot of breaking balls in the bottom half of the zone and they pounded them in the ground, so if it works, it works. And I'm very happy with the results."
Norris walked the leadoff hitter in the first, fourth and fifth innings but got a double play each time and faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings. He pitched around a one-out walk in the sixth to keep the no-hitter alive."The crowd got into it there, and I definitely liked that, especially that [Albert] Pujols at-bat," Norris said. "It was huge. They were all standing on their feet, and I really appreciate that."
"That Pujols at-bat" resulted in the Cardinals slugger flying out to center field for the second out in the seventh inning. Berkman then turned on a 3-1 fastball and sent it over the wall in right field, just over the glove of a leaping Hunter Pence at the wall.
"I almost went down to one knee hoping he was going to catch it," center fielder Jason Bourgeois said. "[Pence] had a good bead on it, but Berkman just got enough of it."
Berkman matched his 2010 total with his 14th home run and is batting .500 with four homers and 10 RBIs in five games at Minute Maid Park this season. The former Houston slugger has homered more times at Minute Maid Park this year than any current Astros.
"We all know Lance," Norris said. "He played here for a long time, and he's such an amazing hitter. I threw the pitch I wanted to throw, and definitely hit my spot, but he put a good swing on it. You tip your cap and say, 'Good job.' "
Berkman was thoroughly impressed with his former teammate.
"I thought he had made a jump with his development as a pitcher," Berkman said. "When he came up, he was a thrower with great stuff. Now he's got a better feel for his offspeed [pitch]. He's got a better feel for pitching. I've always said this dude has great stuff, a great mentality.
"He reminds me a lot of Roger Clemens in terms of his aggressiveness and mound presence. That's about as high of praise as I can give somebody. I think he's very, very good, and he'll get even better."
The Astros, who went 7-for-42 with runners in scoring position in their five games prior to Wednesday, wasted a leadoff double by Bourgeois in the first inning and a leadoff double by Chris Johnson in the second and finished 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
"When you have a pitcher pitching like Bud did and making the plays defensively like we were, it covers up some of those things sometimes," manager Brad Mills said.
The Houston offense finally broke through in the third, when Jeff Keppinger singled with one out and scored on a triple by Pence that landed atop Tal's Hill in center field -- 432 feet from home plate. Pence, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 19 games, scored on a grounder by Carlos Lee to make it 2-0.
The Astros took a three-run lead in the fifth when Bourgeois reached on an infield hit, stole second, went to third on Keppinger's shallow fly ball and scored on the second hit of the night by Jason Michaels, who got the start in left field.
"I was very fortunate tonight," Bourgeois said. "I had a couple of balls that got through down the line, and I was able to beat one out. I felt great and couldn't have asked for nothing else than to contribute and come out with a 'W' tonight."
Source- MLB.com Gameday | astros.com: Gameday