HOUSTON (AP) — The last time reliever Fernando Rodriguez took over for an injured starter in the second inning he wound up getting a win for the Houston Astros.
On Monday night he didn't come out of the tough situation nearly as well.
Lance Lynn pitched seven innings to earn his 17th win, rookie Pete Kozma hit a two-run homer and the St. Louis Cardinals strengthened their grip on a playoff spot with a 6-1 win over the Astros.
Yadier Molina added a solo shot as the Cardinals moved 3½ games in front of Milwaukee and Los Angeles for the second NL wild card. The Brewers lost 12-2 at Washington earlier in the day, and the Dodgers were off.
Houston starter Fernando Abad (0-6) pitched 1 2-3 innings before leaving with a strained right oblique. He walked one and allowed a run. He was replaced by Rodriguez, who was charged with three runs — all off homers — and seven hits in a career-long 4 1-3 innings.
Monday was the second time in the last four games that a Houston starting pitcher lasted 1 2-3 innings before leaving with an injury. Edgar Gonzalez strained his right hamstring and left at the same point in Friday's game. Rodriguez also took over in that one and struck out four in 3 1-3 innings for the win over the Pirates.
"When I was coming up to the mound, I was telling (interim manager) Tony (DeFrancesco): 'This can't be possible. Really?'" Rodriguez said. "This is one of those things that you have to go with it I guess."
Lynn (17-7) struck out nine and yielded allowed one run and five hits. The right-hander is 4-0 with a sparkling 0.89 ERA in his last four outings, including a relief appearance against Milwaukee on Sept. 9.
Kozma extended St. Louis' lead to 3-0 with his second major league homer in the second, a day after hitting his first one. Molina hit his 21st homer of the season to make it 4-1 in the fourth.
"That team has an arsenal over there," DeFrancesco said. "They have some guys with some power."
Lynn improved to 4-0 in five career appearances against the Astros, and St. Louis beat Houston for the ninth straight time in front of a crowd of 12,584 — the smallest crowd in the history of the 12-year-old ballpark.
Daniel Descalso got St. Louis off to a fast start with a two-out RBI triple in the second inning. Kozma's homer bounced off the wall above the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Molina looked healthy a day after he was out of the lineup with lower back spasms. The All-Star catcher was injured avoiding a pitch on Saturday. He fell face down to the ground in the seventh inning getting out of the way of a pitch inside, but jumped right back up, before eventually drawing a walk.
Scott Moore had an RBI single in the second for Houston. Moore drove in Jason Castro, who reached on a wild pitch after he struck out leading off the inning.
Matt Holliday helped the Cardinals put the game away with a two-run single in the seventh. Holliday, who left Sunday's game in the ninth inning with tightness in his back, went 1 for 5 with three strikeouts.
Jason Motte, who leads the NL with 40 saves, got a break after converting opportunities in each of the Cardinals' previous seven wins to earn NL player of the week honors on Monday.
Center fielder Jon Jay, who doesn't have an error this season, robbed Castro of a hit in the fourth inning with a tricky catch. He leapt to stop it with his glove, but it bounced off. He got his bare hand on it, before bobbling it and falling to his knees to snag it before it hit the ground. He smiled and shook his head as he got to his feet as players in the St. Louis dugout raised their arms and cheered.
"I couldn't believe he was able to come down with it," Castro said. "That was one of the best catches I had ever seen. We had some bad luck tonight."
NOTES: Cardinals 3B David Freese was on the lineup card, but was taken out after rolling his right ankle in pregame warmups in the batting cage. He was replaced by Matt Carpenter. ... Astros 3B Matt Dominguez was scratched because of a stomach virus. He was replaced by Brandon Laird. ... St. Louis 1B Lance Berkman, who had his second knee surgery of the season on Sept. 11, said there was a "slim chance" he could play again this season. "I'm not ruling it out," he said. ... Houston OF J.D. Martinez will have surgery to repair the injured hamate bone in his left wrist on Wednesday. ... These teams continue the series on Tuesday when St. Louis left-hander Jaime Garcia opposes rookie Lucas Harrell.