Pujols' early long ball stands up

Pujols' early long ball stands up

PITTSBURGH -- Another historic homer off the bat of Albert Pujols meant another win for the Cardinals on Monday at PNC Park.

Pujols, the leader in career home runs by a visiting player at PNC, tied a record by homering in his fourth straight at-bat in the first inning. But that's routine by now. Pujols goes yard, sun sets in west, Cards beat Pirates (by a 2-1 score on this particular occasion).

The more compelling news for the Cardinals was something that used to be routine, but had been thrown into some question lately -- Jason Isringhausen nailing down the save.

Following a leadoff double, Isringhausen rang up a pair of strikeouts and a grounder against the heart of the Pittsburgh order for his best outing in a week and a half. He had permitted game-winning home runs in two of his past three appearances, and his only save since April 6 included a hit, a walk and just one out.

"It's been a long week," said Isringhausen.

His fourth save of the year finished off Jason Marquis' third win in as many starts, and meant that Pujols' record-tying home run was a game-winner itself.

"I don't look at numbers," said Pujols, who is tied for the Major League lead with nine long balls. "I don't know. I didn't know anything about [the record] until you guys brought it up. Because that's not me. I don't get locked in on numbers. I don't get locked in on anything like that. I get locked in on seeing the ball and helping my team out to win and hopefully doing some damage out there."

Pujols' two-run shot off Paul Maholm (0-2) in the first went just to the right of dead center. It was the 35th time in Major League history that a player went deep in four at-bats in a row, and the 20th time anyone has homered in four straight plate appearances.

The last player to homer in four straight at-bats was Carlos Delgado, then a member of the Blue Jays, on July 25, 2003. Like Pujols, Delgado hit his four dingers in four straight plate appearances, with no walks in between.

No National League player had accomplished the feat since Andruw Jones from Sept. 7-10, 2002. The last NL hitter to hit home runs in four straight plate appearances was Shawn Green, then of the Dodgers, on June 14-15, 2002.

Pujols is only the second Cardinal in history to go four in a row, joining Stan Musial, who did it at the age of 41, July 7-8, 1962. He is the first Cardinal with long balls in four straight plate appearances.

"He's doing things that put him in company with the greatest players of all time," said manager Tony La Russa.

Marquis (3-0) took advantage of an early swinging Pirates team to get through eight innings on 94 pitches, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to three wins on the season. He has won seven of eight decisions dating back to August of 2005.

Through seven innings, Marquis was barely touched. The only base hit against him in that span was an infield dribbler by Chris Duffy in the third. He didn't allow a single baserunner with fewer than two outs until a Jose Castillo double in the eighth. Nate McLouth followed with an RBI single to cut the lead in half.

Marquis finished off the eighth before handing the ball off to Isringhausen.

"We came up with a game plan and we stuck with it -- to make good quality sinkers down in the strike zone early," said Marquis. "I took the aggressive approach, they put the bat on the ball and my defense made some great plays that helped me get late into the game."

Isringhausen had to earn his save. Jack Wilson poked a leadoff double down the right-field line, bringing up the extremely dangerous Jason Bay. Isringhausen fanned Bay, then did the same thing to Jeromy Burnitz, bringing up Craig Wilson with two outs. Wilson, who had a pair of doubles in four previous at-bats against Isringhausen, got ahead in the count, 2-0, before grounding out to second base.

And thus ended not only the game, but a thoroughly miserable stretch for Isringhausen.

"When you pitch bad, it's always in the back of your mind when you go out there," he said. "Then you string a few good outings together and you go out there and you stop thinking about it, and everything falls into place."

Isringhausen's curveball was sharp, and his cut fastball had more life and movement than it's had in some time. He looked very much like the pitcher who amassed 86 saves for the Cards the past two years.

"I made a couple bad pitches, but I made good pitches when I had to," he said. "And I wasn't able to do that before. So it's a step in the right direction. I'm not saying I'm fixed. I've still got some work to do. But I made pitches when I had to, and I wasn't able to do that [previously]."

The Cardinals missed plenty of offensive chances, but it didn't matter. They left the bases loaded in the fifth. Three times they got a runner into scoring position with one or no outs and did not score.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.