09/13/06 1:00 AM ET
Pujols delivers off Lidge to lift Cards
Two-run double in ninth further separates Redbirds from Astros
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Pujols delivered a game-ending, two-run double off the Houston right-hander on Tuesday night, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 win over the Astros at Busch Stadium. The win likely dealt a crushing blow to the Astros' already fading National League Central hopes. Houston now trails by seven games with 18 to play, including only five head-to-head matchups between the two teams.
Cincinnati remains in second place in the division, five games back of St. Louis. The Cardinals' magic number is 14 to eliminate the Reds and 12 over third-place Houston.
Officially, Pujols is 2-for-11 against Lidge, but those numbers count only regular-season meetings. The number ignores Pujols' unforgettable game-winning home run against Lidge at Minute Maid Park in last season's National League Championship Series.
"When you have a guy like that, one of the best closers in the league, you don't want to think about anything," Pujols said. "All you want to do is just hopefully let him make a mistake, and you take advantage."
Lidge got ahead of Pujols, 1-2, before the slugger got around on a fastball and deposited it into the left-field corner. Pinch-runner Skip Schumaker and Scott Spiezio both scored easily as the ball skipped away from Jason Lane.
"I didn't know it had kind of gone around the edge, so I thought it was going to be a real close play," Spiezio said. "And then I saw nobody at home plate, telling me to get down or anything. So I was like, 'Great. Cool. Where's Albert?'"
Cardinals bats had been silent for three innings before the rally, going hitless against the Houston bullpen through the sixth, seventh and eighth. But pinch-hitter John Rodriguez worked a full count before singling to right against Lidge. Schumaker replaced Rodriguez at first base, and the rookie took second on Jose Vizcaino's sacrifice bunt. After Preston Wilson struck out, the Cardinals needed Spiezio to reach base in order for their superstar to have a shot.
Spiezio did just that when a first-pitch Lidge slider bounced off his foot, giving the veteran utility man first base for free. Spiezio was in pain, but he vowed to do what was needed on the bases -- and he did.
"Of course he made it tough on me," Spiezio quipped, "instead of hitting a home run."
The RBIs were Nos. 119 and 120 on the season for Pujols, marking the fifth time in six years he's driven in 120 or more. He's 10 ribbies shy of his career high. He's tallied a ridiculous 23 game-winning RBIs on the year.
"I knew that ball was going to drop," Pujols said, "so I was just praying that the ball hits the dirt and hopefully we get a chance to score the two runs, and that's what happened. I just tried to get a good pitch to hit. I don't try to think anything. Just go out there and try to get a good pitch to hit and try to put my best swing."
The rally made a winner of Braden Looper, who has picked up nine Ws in relief on the year. Looper's two shutout innings capped a fine night by the Cardinals bullpen. Also contributing scoreless work were Josh Hancock and Tyler Johnson after Jeff Weaver let two leads get away.
"Every win is big," Looper said. "Everybody scoreboard-watches. We saw that Cincinnati won, so that makes those two runs there in the ninth inning that much bigger. It keeps them at bay for another game.
"We've got a five-game lead with however many games it is to play. Every win makes that margin where it's going to be harder and harder for them to catch us. So, if we keep winning, keep winning series, we should be good."
St. Louis held leads of 2-1 and 4-3, but both times, Weaver let the advantage get away. In the sixth, immediately after being handed a lead, Weaver walked the leadoff man, then allowed a two-run homer.
"Everything was all right except for that sixth inning," Weaver said. "The walks tonight killed me -- to lead off that sixth after we just got the lead back, it just got away there. And falling 3-0 to the next guy, I was just trying to battle back. Didn't want to walk another guy, so I threw a pitch that was pretty much on a tee for him, and he killed it."
Wilson hit a two-run homer for the Cardinals against his former team.
The Cardinals came back to win without the services of Scott Rolen. The third baseman was ejected in the fifth inning after arguing a called third strike with home plate umpire Tim Tschida.
"I snapped, obviously," Rolen said. "We had a disagreement about the strike zone. That's about it. Not much more to it than that. It was pretty obvious that I snapped. I was upset."
According to STATS, Inc., it was the second ejection of Rolen's 11-season Major League career and his first since 1998.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.