The Houston Astros may have parted ways with a couple of longtime stalwarts over the past few days, but it looks as if Brett Myers will be around for quite a while longer.
One day after signing a contract extension, Myers will attempt to pitch the resurgent Astros to a season-high sixth straight victory in tonight's clash with the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, who'll be unveiling new acquisition Jake Westbrook in the opener of this three-game series from Busch Stadium.
Myers, who signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Astros this past winter, had been rumored to be part of the team's fire sale at the just-completed trade deadline in which franchise icons Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were each dealt to contenders. Houston decided not to move the veteran right-hander, instead opting to make him a key piece in its rebuilding plans by inking him to a long-term pact on Sunday.
The Astros and Myers agreed to a $21 million deal that runs through the 2011 and 2012 seasons and includes an option for 2013.
Myers earned the new contract by being Houston's most consistent pitcher during the 2010 campaign. The former Philadelphia Phillie has compiled an 8-6 record and a 3.10 earned run average in 21 starts and has lasted at least six innings in every one of those assignments.
"Brett has been a warrior for us this year," said Astros general manager Ed Wade. "He has re-established himself as a frontline starting pitcher, and we're going to rely on him to anchor our staff. He brings a veteran presence, and he's still only 29 years old."
Myers was particularly strong during July, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.67 ERA in five starts for the month. In his last outing, he matched a career-best with 12 strikeouts and fired a complete-game four-hitter in Tuesday's 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
The former first-round draft pick has also excelled when facing the Cardinals this season, having gone 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA in three starts against the division rivals. That includes a 4-1 win in Houston on July 10 in which Myers held St. Louis to one run and five hits over eight strong innings.
Lifetime against the Cardinals, Myers is 6-3 with a 4.55 ERA in 16 games (14 starts).
The Astros haven't suffered in the aftermath of the trades of both Oswalt and Berkman, ripping off a season-best five consecutive wins and sweeping a three- game series with Milwaukee over the weekend. In Sunday's finale, Jason Michaels hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning that lifted Houston to a 5-2 triumph.
Down 2-0 entering the seventh, the Astros loaded the bases on a single and two walks before Michaels greeted Brewers reliever Zach Braddock with a blast over the left-field wall to put Houston ahead.
The slam made a winner out of Wesley Wright (1-1), who allowed just two runs and four hits while striking out seven over seven innings in his third major league start. Wilton Lopez and Brandon Lyon then kept Milwaukee off the basepaths in the final two frames to finish off the sweep.
Houston will be aiming to win six in a row for the first time since September 6-11, 2008 when it takes the field tonight. The Astros have fared well against the Cardinals so far this year, taking five of nine previous meetings and sweeping a three-game set at Busch Stadium from May 11-13.
St. Louis also enters this evening's clash on a roll, winning three straight matchups with last-place Pittsburgh this past weekend. The Cardinals have gone 13-5 since July 11 to take a half-game edge over Cincinnati for the NL Central's top spot.
After routing the Pirates by an 11-1 count on Saturday, St. Louis produced another lopsided win in yesterday's finale behind a 14-hit attack and another excellent performance from co-ace Adam Wainwright. The All-Star hurler tossed seven effective innings and got home runs from Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday as the Cards rolled to a 9-1 verdict.
Wainwright (15-6) became the second pitcher to reach 15 wins this season by limiting Pittsburgh to a run on six hits and fanning five without a walk. He helped his cause at the plate as well with a pair of hits, including an RBI single during a five-run fifth inning.
The standout right-hander is now 11-0 in 12 Busch Stadium starts in 2010.
"I can't explain this cause I feel exactly the same when I'm on the road," said Wainwright of his home success. "I think our team, for whatever reasons, plays better ball behind me and our pitchers at home."
Pujols capped the big fifth inning with a two-run homer and Aaron Miles knocked in three runs for St. Louis, while Brendan Ryan finished 3-for-3 and scored three times on the afternoon.
Westbrook will try to keep the Cardinals in first place in his debut with his new club. The right-hander was picked up from the Cleveland Indians in a three-team trade just prior to Saturday's deadline, with St. Louis sending regular right fielder Ryan Ludwick to San Diego as part of the swap.
After missing all of last season and making just five starts in 2008 due to elbow problems that required Tommy John surgery, Westbrook has put together a pretty solid comeback year. The two-time 15-game winner amassed a 6-7 record with a 4.65 ERA in 21 starts for the last-place Indians and has shown to be durable, having logged six innings or more in nine of his last 12 trips to the hill.
Westbrook lost his final two starts with the Tribe but pitched well in his most recent one, which took place against the New York Yankees on July 26. He held the defending world champions to one run over the game's first seven innings, but surrendered a two-run homer in the eighth and wound up on the short end of a 3-2 decision.
The 32-year-old's only previous encounter with the Astros occurred while a rookie with the Indians in 2001, with Westbrook permitting four runs over 4 1/3 frames to suffer a loss. He's also pitched just once before in Busch Stadium, a six-inning stint in 2006 in which he was reached for three runs.