Pujols blasts three homers as Cards romp
Slugger's outburst backs Wainwright's seven-inning effort
CHICAGO -- There's almost nothing that can go so wrong with the Cardinals offense that Albert Pujols can't fix it.
Pujols reminded the Redbirds, and perhaps the rest of the National League, of that truth on Sunday afternoon. He hit three home runs, all of them absolutely crushed, as the Cardinals offense unloaded in a 9-1 win against the Cubs. Pujols went deep twice in 97 May at-bats entering the game.
The three-time National League Most Valuable Player hit a mammoth solo home run onto Waveland Ave. in the first inning, giving St. Louis the early lead, and added an even more impressive shot onto the street for two runs in the fifth. He capped his outburst with another solo jack, this one to straightaway center, in the ninth inning. Pujols also drew two walks, one intentional, and tied a career high by scoring four runs.
It was the fourth three-homer game of his career, and his first since Sept. 3, 2006, against the Pirates. With 36 career games of two or more home runs, he moved within one of Stan Musial's franchise record. It was a pretty good day for the St. Louis superstar.
"Everyone knows what his numbers are going to be," said Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. "He does it every single year. Whether he gets to it in the second half or has a monster first half, however he does it, he'll have the same numbers. I don't think we were grooving him fastballs, thinking he'd lost his power."
On a superb day for Pujols, the centerpiece was the second dinger. With the game still very much in doubt at 2-0, Pujols worked a superb at-bat against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. He fell behind, 1-2, then took a ball in the dirt. He fouled off a changeup inside, off the plate, and took another change to run the count full.
At 3-2, Pujols fouled off a slider and then a split-finger pitch, both right on the edge of the strike zone. On the ninth pitch of the confrontation, he hammered a hanging slider to make it 4-0 and all but ensure the win.
"Against Dempster, you can't guess," Pujols said. "Because he's got three pitches that he can put you away. And when a guy is that good like that, has pretty good stuff, you just need to go by your skill, what you have. Trust yourself and try to see the ball and stay balanced, and that's something that I did. He threw me a couple of splits that were pretty filthy, and threw me a couple of good sliders. And I was able to hit one that he hung right there. I took advantage."
After that, it wasn't close. Every St. Louis run scored with two outs, including a two-run seventh-inning rally. A Ryan Ludwick double and the intentional pass to Pujols set up Matt Holliday for an RBI single, and David Freese followed with a knock. Holliday entered the at-bat 1-for-9 this year in plate appearances following an intentional walk to Pujols before his hit Sunday, and he finished the day 4-for-5.
Pujols and Freese went deep in the ninth inning to make the game a rout. The Cardinals have scored six or more runs in six of their past nine games, after reaching that number three times in the previous 16 games.
The offensive outburst made starter Adam Wainwright, if not a footnote, surely the second banana. Yet Wainwright was typically outstanding. He struck out eight against two walks, allowing only a seventh-inning solo homer to Geovany Soto. It was the seventh time in 11 appearances this year that Wainwright has pitched at least seven innings with no more than two earned runs. Wainwright moved into second place in the National League with 77 strikeouts and is also second with 79 innings pitched.
"I love it," he said of the onslaught. "I wish it was like that every time. Albert made a lot of good swings. A lot of our guys made good swings today."
The win gave the Redbirds a 3-3 mark on their road trip to San Diego and Chicago, pulling them back within one game of first-place Cincinnati in the National League Central. The Reds visit Busch Stadium for three games starting Monday afternoon.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.