Penny drops for plunging Houston Astros

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Brad Penny dazzled in his first home start for St. Louis on Wednesday, delivering a 2-1 Cardinals victory over the slumping Houston Astros.

Signed in the offseason, Penny allowed one unearned run and three hits in seven innings to earn his first victory of the year and extend Houston's dreadful start to the season to 0-8.

Cardinals reliever Ryan Franklin pitched the ninth for his third save of the year while free-swinging Albert Pujols had an RBI single in the first where St. Louis (6-2) scored twice.

"When (Penny) is healthy he's lights-out," Franklin told reporters. "He's painting his fastball at 93, 97 to 98 miles per hour. And he can throw his curveball for strikes at any time."

The Astros are now just one short of matching their franchise-worst 0-9 start to the 1983 MLB season.

Houston starter Brett Myers, another offseason acquisition, pitched well and surrendered two runs, one unearned, over seven innings.

Michael Bourn went 2-for-3 with a run scored in the first off a sacrifice fly by Pedro Feliz for the hapless Astros, who have recorded just two combined runs in three games.

"We had some guys in scoring position," said first-year manager Brad Mills. "We're getting some good at-bats, and I think that's a little bit of an improvement."

Penny had little trouble shutting down Houston and needed just 89 pitches in his second straight quality showing.

The veteran right-hander also allowed one run in seven innings during his debut against the Cincinnati Reds last week.

Pujols notched his Major League-leading 15th RBI and his 11th in his last four games.

(Reporting by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Alastair Himmer)