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STL@MIL: Cardinals belt three home runs in the third

MILWAUKEE -- The banner plastered on the concrete façade in left field provided a refresher for anyone who might have forgotten that the Brewers -- not the Cardinals -- actually claimed the National League Central crown last year. But with an 11-5 victory to spoil Milwaukee's season opener, it was St. Louis that reasserted itself as the one to dethrone in 2012.

In much the same way they hushed Miller Park during a Game 6 meeting last October, the Cardinals silenced a sellout crowd of 46,086 fans on Friday with a display of power against Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo.

Four different players homered off Gallardo before the Brewers' Opening Day starter could record his seventh out of the game. His day was then done before the end of the fourth, as the Cardinals displayed the depth of their lineup in front of one of the division's expected contenders.

"They look pretty good," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I never sold them short because Albert [Pujols] was gone."

Indeed this meeting between division heavyweights had a varying cast of characters than those matchups last fall. Gone are Pujols, Tony La Russa and Prince Fielder. Through two games, though, the Cardinals have hardly looked like a club sapped of any production.

"I think our lineup, top to bottom, is better than last year," said starter Jaime Garcia, the beneficiary of the offense's big afternoon. "Our offense is unbelievable."

Four of the first five hits tallied by St. Louis on Friday left the ballpark. Yadier Molina went deep first, his second-inning solo shot shaving the Brewers' 2-0 lead in half. Three more homers followed in the third.

Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday connected on back-to-back pitches, with Holliday's lined shot leaving the field in mere seconds. David Freese capped the barrage of long balls with a two-run blast later in the frame.

"We know that we can score runs," said Beltran, who reached base three times and also swiped his first base. "It all depends on how healthy we stay through the season. We believe in every single guy in the lineup."

Interestingly enough, the opponent -- Gallardo -- and the setting were the same the last time St. Louis connected for four homers in a game. That came on Sept. 1, 2011, which was also the most recent regular-season game the Cardinals had played in Milwaukee before Friday.

Singles by Rafael Furcal and Freese helped to push across the Cardinals' sixth run off Gallardo, who -- including postseason outings -- is 1-9 with a 6.24 ERA in 13 career starts against St. Louis.

While highlighted by the homers, the Cardinals' 16-hit offensive output was just as much characterized by dispersion. After seven of the eight starting position players had at least one hit on Opening Day in Miami, all eight had at least one base knock on Friday. All eight scored a run, too.

Eight different players drove in a run, led by Freese, whose three RBIs on Friday gives him five in two games.

"I think that's going to be the strength of our team -- the length of our lineup and the ability to put together good at-bats," Holliday said.

Even all three pinch-hitters used on Friday recorded a hit, including Erik Komatsu, who legged out an infield single in his first Major League at-bat. Shane Robinson and Matt Carpenter each had RBI hits in their pinch-hit at-bats.

In their first two games sans Pujols, the Cardinals have recorded 29 hits, 11 for extra bases.

"Everybody in baseball knows that they're still a really great lineup," Brewers outfielder Corey Hart said. "And they pitch. So they're going to be tough."

Garcia needed only a fraction of the support as he followed a shaky first inning with a string of five scoreless frames. Consecutive hits by Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez allowed the Brewers to jump to a 2-0 lead off Garcia. St. Louis' starter then didn't allow another hit until the fifth, and he threw a first-pitch strike to 11 of the final 16 batters he faced.

The key, Garcia said afterward, was not taking his first-inning struggles with him back out to the mound.

"Being able to stay in the game and forget about what happened the batter before, the inning before, I think that's what any pitcher wants to do when you go out there," said Garcia, who also kept the Brewers hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"Sometimes it's not going to go your way, but being able to block those things and go get the next guy is what you want to do. I was able to do that today, and I'll take the 'W.'"

With the series-opening victory, the Cardinals have won seven of the last eight regular-season meetings between these division foes. In between, they defeated Milwaukee four times in six postseason games.

So while the Brewers might have a banner display, bragging rights still belong to those in red. And as Holliday noted: "Our banner is cooler." Comments