Woeful Astros winless no more

St. Louis - No champagne spray awaited the Houston Astros. Just an overwhelming sense of relief.

“On a scale of 1 to 10?” rookie manager Brad Mills said after the Astros beat St. Louis, 5-1, Thursday for their first win of the season. “It’s pretty high. And that’s just being truthful.”

The Astros escaped their 0-8 rut – and avoided a tie for the worst start in franchise history – behind Bud Norris’ arm and bat. They were the only winless team remaining in the majors and came close to matching their 0-9 opening in 1983.

“I can’t say I sensed that we were pressing,” outfielder Hunter Pence said. “You can’t build up emotions and get angry and play harder or something.

“You’ve got to control what you can control, play baseball and let it happen.”

Norris (1-0) struck out a career-high nine and held the Cardinals without an earned run for five innings. He also got his first career RBI to put the Astros ahead for good.

“We came out of the gate a little bit slow, that’s fine,” Norris said. “We’re not worried about that, we’ve had a little bit of pressure on us, but we’re over it. We know what we can do.”

In fact, the poor start doesn’t doom the Astros. After that slow beginning in 1983, they rebounded to finish 85-77.

Jeff Keppinger had two hits and his first three RBI of the season, matching his career best. Michael Bourn contributed his fourth straight two-hit game and scored from first on Keppinger’s hit-and-run double in the third off Kyle Lohse (0-1).

Norris’ single gave the Astros the lead in the third. Bourn reached on a fielder’s choice and Keppinger doubled.

Five runs is one off the season high for the Astros, whose total of 19 is by far the major-league low. Houston scored one unearned run in the first two games of this three-game series, and its .214 average entering the game was tied with the Indians for the worst in the majors.

Norris struck out Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus twice each during an overpowering stint limited to five innings by 106 pitches, getting Pujols to wave at sliders well off the plate. The Cardinals capitalized only on left fielder Carlos Lee’s dropped pop fly in the fourth, and that is St. Louis’ lone score against Norris in 18 career innings.

“I’ll give him credit, he’s made a lot of good pitches,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.