The St. Louis Cardinals spoiled Clark's managerial debut by taking advantage of an uncharacteristically poor home start by left-hander Wandy Rodriguez to send the Astros to their season-high eighth consecutive loss, 7-3, at Minute Maid Park.
"I thought the guys played with a lot of intensity tonight," said Clark, who was named interim manager when the Astros (70-80) announced Cecil Cooper was dismissed earlier in the day.
Rodriguez, who came into the game with a home ERA of 1.58 that led the Majors, was roughed up for nine hits and six runs in five innings to snap his five-game winning streak at Minute Maid Park. He has lost two successive starts.
"Wandy's been good for us all year," Clark said. "The first two innings were not so good to him, giving up three in the first and two in the second. But you have to give it to him. He's going to have a game like that every now and again."
Despite Clark's fingerprints on the lineup card, the Astros didn't do much differently on the field than they had done the previous seven games. They were 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position and couldn't climb out of an early five-run deficit.
Still, the ascension of Clark gave the players some added pep.
"There's a new guy at the helm, and any time you lose a manager it's going to have an impact on the team -- one way or another," Blum said. "There was a little bit of shell shock what happened today, but our job is to play baseball games. We have to take responsibility for our own job, and everything else should be able to take care of itself. We're going to continue to play hard."
The Cardinals have won three of four games and nine of 14 against the Astros, who swept them in mid-July at Minute Maid Park to get within one game of the division lead. Now, Houston is 17 1/2 out, and St. Louis has magic number of three to clinch the division.
"For me personally, it's disappointing seeing the Cardinals in the shape they're in, knowing they're making a playoff run and they've got magic numbers in front of them," Blum said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jealous what they're going through.
"Having been through it, it's a great thing. We had a little bit of it last year when we played well. These last 12 games are our chance to figure out who we want to be this year. I don't think anyone has given up on this ballclub. We're going to play hard for each and every guy on the roster."
Rodriguez (13-11) gave up three runs and four consecutive hits after two outs in the first inning, including a double to Albert Pujols (2-for-5) and a two-run double to Mark DeRosa that gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
"I made a couple of mistakes," Rodriguez said. "I changed my routine against Pujols. Today I threw fastballs up for a strike, and I think he was looking for a breaking ball, and I threw a fastball again and he hit a double."
Miguel Tejada hit a solo homer off St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse (6-8) in the first, but the Cardinals used a Julio Lugo sacrifice fly and a Brendan Ryan single to go ahead, 5-1, in the second. DeRosa homered off Rodriguez in the third and Chad Paronto in the sixth to make it 7-2.
DeRosa is hitting .361 with six homers and 10 RBIs against the Astros this season.
"I wish I knew," Clark said when asked if he knew why DeRosa was such a tough out. "Ever since he's been over there he's been tearing us up. We all know he's a pretty good hitter and has been around a long time and has a real good track record."
Humberto Quintero had an RBI single for the Astros, and Lance Berkman walloped his 23rd homer of the season in the sixth inning. Lohse went six innings and gave up five hits and three runs and struck out four batters.
"The biggest thing is we stayed out of a lot of double plays," Clark said. "That's been our nemesis, shucks, all year. We only hit into one. Other than that, we played with a lot of intensity and a lot of energy and just came out on the bottom end."
When asked if finally getting his chance to manage on the Major League level was everything he expected, Clark was honest.
"I was expecting to win the game," he said. "It was a pretty hectic day -- bittersweet. I enjoyed doing what I was doing tonight and look forward to the next 12 games or so."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less