Pujols hit a game-ending RBI single against Roberto Hernandez on Wednesday afternoon, scoring David Eckstein and giving St. Louis a 4-3 win over the Pirates at Busch Stadium. Pujols fell behind Hernandez 0-2, worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off a pitch before lining a ball just inside the third-base line.
For the reigning National League MVP, it was RBI No. 29 on the year. For the Cardinals, it was the first series sweep at new Busch Stadium and the ninth win in 11 games.
Eckstein's one-out single to right field got things going, and Hector Luna followed with a bloop single to center. The Pirates chose to pitch to Pujols, rather than walking him intentionally, which they had done twice already in the game.
"I trust my hands," Pujols said. "I know that if I get two strikes, I can still take the same approach and get a base hit. I'm really comfortable with two strikes. It doesn't bother me at all."
The knocks by Eckstein and Luna put Bucs manager Jim Tracy in an unenviable position. His choices: face Pujols, the hottest and most dangerous hitter in the National League, or put the winning run on third base with one out.
"If you walk him intentionally, you've got fielders 100 feet away from home plate with Juan Encarnacion up," Tracy said. "You can't do it that way. There are all kinds of doors open. If you walk [Pujols] there, they've got [Jim] Edmonds sitting over there -- there's any number of things [Cardinals manager Tony La Russa] can do."
Hernandez came out firing against Pujols, blowing a 97 mph fastball past him with the first pitch. Pujols barely laid off the 0-2 offering, and the Pirates believed that should have been strike three.
"I threw the first three pitches where I wanted to," Hernandez said. "[The umpire] called the second strike, but he wouldn't call the third one."
Asked about Pujols after the game, La Russa was quick to credit the men who set the table. Pujols singled out the lineup's first two men as well. Eckstein reached base three times and scored on all three occasions. Luna's single was his second of the game and seventh hit in the series.
"That's their job," said Pujols. "Their job is to get on base and do whatever they have to do to get on base to help us win. And my job is to drive them in, like I did."
"Their job is to get on base and do whatever they have to do to get on base to help us win. And my job is to drive them in."
-- Albert Pujols, on David Eckstein and Hector Luna
The Cardinals won without Edmonds or Scott Rolen appearing in the contest. So Taguchi and Scott Spiezio contributed RBI singles, as they played in place of the All-Stars. Rolen is sidelined with bronchitis, while Edmonds received a routine day off.
At 14-7, the Cardinals are a season-high seven games over .500, and they have gone 9-3 in new Busch. They've won five straight series since being swept in Chicago over the season's first weekend.
"We don't ever feel like if we give somebody a day off, whether they're sick or just tired or hurt, that we don't field a competitive lineup," La Russa said. "We've got guys who come to play, and they make things happen. It's a special win in that regard."
The ninth-inning run made a winner of Jason Isringhausen, who allowed a game-tying solo homer to Jose Hernandez in the top of the ninth. Isringhausen has permitted three home runs in 10 games this year after serving up four in 63 appearances in 2005.
Left with a no-decision was starter Mark Mulder, who held Pittsburgh to two runs over 7 2/3 innings. Mulder struck out just one and issued a season-high five walks over 7 2/3 innings, but he induced 16 outs on the ground. He left the game in position to pick up his 100th career win.
"It was one of those days where you don't have your best stuff but you just grind away," Mulder said. "I didn't have a very good cutter. I didn't have a very good split or curveball. I threw some good changeups here and there and threw my sinker in and out and got groundballs."
Mulder benefited from four double plays behind him, as well as from an offense that tallied 12 hits.