HOUSTON — Lance Lynn pitched seven innings to earn his 17th win, rookie Pete Kozma hit a two-run home run, and the St. Louis Cardinals strengthened their grip on a playoff spot with a 6-1 win over the Houston Astros on Monday night.
Yadier Molina added a solo shot as the Cardinals moved 3 1/2 games in front of Milwaukee and Los Angeles for the second National League wild card. The Brewers lost 12-2 at Washington earlier in the day, and the Dodgers were off.
Lynn (17-7) struck out nine and 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 home run in the second, a day after hitting his first one. Molina hit his 21st home run of the season to make it 4-1 in the fourth.
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 Fernando Rodriguez, who was charged with three runs and seven hits in a career-long 4 1/3 innings.
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. He 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.