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Sanchez powers streaking Astros in rout

Sanchez powers streaking Astros in rout

ST. LOUIS -- With the outcome of the game already decided by the seventh inning Tuesday night, Astros second baseman Jeff Keppinger led a groundswell of support in the dugout and urged teammate Angel Sanchez to swing for the fences.

And why not?

The red-hot Astros led by 10 runs and were well on their way to their seventh consecutive victory, and the rookie shortstop needed only a home run to become the first Houston player in more than four years to hit for the cycle.

"We were all thinking about it," third baseman Chris Johnson said.

Sanchez wound up with an RBI single and a bases-loaded strikeout in his final two at-bats, but still managed to go 4-for-6 with a career-high six RBIs to lead the Astros' 22-hit attack in a runaway 18-4 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

"I did think about it," Sanchez said of going for the cycle. "Keppinger told me about it and he was right. I just needed a home run for the cycle and it didn't happen. That's OK. I still had a good night."

And so did the Astros, who beat the Cardinals for the sixth consecutive time at Busch Stadium and set season highs in runs scored and hits without the benefit of a home run. Houston was three hits and one run shy of its club records in those categories. It has outscored opponents 57-10 during its seven-game streak.

"I was thinking one of two things," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Either the 10-run rule or the seven-inning thing that is in the Minor Leagues sometimes when they play a doubleheader. It was agony."

The 18 runs were the most scored by the Astros and the most given up by the Cardinals since Houston's 18-1 victory at Busch Stadium on Sept. 20, 2007. Astros catcher J.R. Towles drove in eight runs in that game, which was the last time a Houston rookie had driven in at least six runs prior to Tuesday.

"I was just being patient at the plate and got some good pitches to hit," Sanchez said.

The beneficiary of the run support was pitcher Bud Norris, who wasn't as dominant as he usually is against the Cardinals, but was plenty good enough to get another win in St. Louis. Norris (4-7) gave up four earned runs and seven hits and struck out six batters in six innings to improve to 5-1 in his career against the Cardinals, including 4-0 at Busch Stadium.

"We're going good," Keppinger said. "We've got everybody contributing one through nine. Even Bud got a hit tonight, and when that happens, you're going to put up some runs. You see a guy in front of you get a base hit and you feel you can get in there and do the same thing, and the next thing you know, you have two or three in a row."

The Astros were 13-for-19 with runners in scoring position and managed only five extra-base hits -- four doubles and one triple. Carlos Lee (3-for-5) and Pedro Feliz (3-for-6) had three hits apiece, and Johnson (2-for-3), Geoff Blum (2-for-2) and Jason Castro (2-for-5) had multihit games.

After scoring three runs in the eighth inning and four in the ninth inning Monday night, the Astros tallied five in the second Tuesday and had four runs in three consecutive innings -- the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Things got so out of hand that Cardinals infielder Aaron Miles pitched the ninth, becoming the only St. Louis pitcher in the series to not allow a run.

"I think it all started last night," said Johnson, who has hit safely in 16 of 17 games and is batting a National League-best .429 since the All-Star break. "We just got in one of those modes where we're like, 'Nobody try to make the last out.' We got into that again tonight and we'll try doing it again tomorrow."

Sanchez, acquired in a trade from Boston for catcher Kevin Cash on July 1, was a career .257 hitter in 32 career games entering Tuesday and has never homered in his Major League career. He had a two-run double to highlight the Astros' five-run second inning and added a single in the fourth.

In the sixth, Sanchez tripled to left-center to drive in three runs and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Hunter Pence to give the Astros a commanding 10-3 lead. It was 13-3 when he stepped to the plate in the seventh, needing that elusive home run.

If he wasn't initially aware he needed a homer for the cycle, his teammates soon made sure he did.

"In that type of game, why not?" Keppinger said. "If it's a close type of game and you have to do something different for your team and get on base, but at that point, we had a really big lead, so why not? It doesn't come around very often to get to do something like that, and it's pretty special. I told him to give it every shot and go for it."

Sanchez ripped an RBI single to left field in the seventh, and in his final chance to get the cycle, struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth. He didn't get the cycle, but he didn't seem to be all that bothered.

"It's a pretty amazing night for me, plus we won the game, so that's a really good day," he said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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