Pujols hits three homers in win

Pujols hits three homers in win

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols delivered another incredible day, bolstering an already stunning career and building his resume for a second straight National League MVP Award.

"What can I say?" Yadier Molina said. "He is one of the best hitters on the planet."

Pitching-wise, Anthony Reyes, using a more aggressive approach, crafted one of the most dominating starts of his rookie season.

"He did so many things well," La Russa said. "That's a tough lineup and he didn't give him down the middle. And a couple times when he had to do something, he made quality pitches and kept the ball out of the middle."

Combined, the two incredible performances provided the Cardinals with one of their season's best games, a 6-3 win over the Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium.

"We had a couple of outstanding things happen today," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "One was the pitcher and the other was the hitter."

Helped by cheers from many of his fans from the St. Louis Down Syndrome Association, Pujols belted three homers for the second time this season and the third time in his career.

"He is such a hungry hitter, he always has a chance," La Russa said. "He is amazing. He had that special day with the kids, and I think that inspires him. All of those kids say, 'Hit one for me, hit one for me,' I think he has a little bit of inspiration on a day like today. Three beautiful strokes."

Pujols remains the only player to hit three bombs at the new Busch Stadium, matching a feat set on April 15 against the Reds. In that contest, Pujols' third homer, a walk-off shot, provided the Redbirds with an 8-7 victory.

Sunday, though, his early offense helped the Redbirds to coast.

"Too much Albert Pujols today," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "That's simply what the game boils down to."

The win provided the Cardinals -- reeling a few weeks ago -- with their seventh win on the nine-game homestand and helped raise their NL Central lead to a season-high six games over the Reds in the NL Central race. The win also yielded the Cardinals' third straight series victory and fifth in their past six.

"This is the best I have seen us play," Chris Duncan said.

It also helped Reyes gain solid footing. Optioned to the Minors when Mark Mulder came off the disabled list, the rookie, activated from Triple-A Memphis prior to today's start, delivered his best week of the season, tossing 13 shutout innings over two starts. Aggressively using his four-seam fastball and mixing in his offspeed pitches, Reyes earned the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week Award.

The same approach worked Sunday.

"I just want to be aggressive off my fastball and work everything off that," Reyes said. "I went down there and worked on some things and just tried to carry those in. I just tried to stay confident with all of my pitches and try not to walk anybody."

Pitch economy had been the right-hander's downfall in many of his 12 Major League starts this season. This time, though, the aggressive approach paid dividends. Next to his one-hitter of the White Sox on June 21, Sunday yielded arguably the best start of Reyes' career.

"He has pitched really well in several of his starts, but this was a big one," La Russa said. "This is September now. The end is in sight. It's a very important win for us. When he pitched well, he has been aggressive ... but he was aggressive, with really good stuff and he was not over the middle of the plate."

Reyes tossed the fourth straight quality start by a Cardinal starter. Over the past four games, starters are 2-1 with a 0.92 ERA. On the nine game homestand, the starters combined for a 4-2 record and 2.95 ERA.

Reyes played his part in his first Major League start against the Pirates. Tossing 80 percent four-seam fastballs, the rookie consistently worked ahead and rarely got behind in counts. Earlier in the season, he would rack up nearly 100 pitches through five innings. On Sunday, he spread just 75 tosses over the first 15 outs.

He also struck out a career-high nine, including seven in the first five innings, using his breaking ball and devastating changeup later in counts.

"I just tried to use [them] as a strikeout pitch more than anything else. I just tried to speed up the bats and then slow them down," he said. "When my fastball is there, then that is when I am at my best."

And Pujols took care of the rest, belting three homers in the first five innings of Ian Snell. In the first inning, Pujols parked his 40th homer of the season into the left-field bullpen, providing the Cardinals with a 1-0 lead.

Hitting fastballs and sliders, he blasted a two-run homer in the third inning and smoked another shot two innings later that gave the Redbirds a 5-0 lead.

Still, Pujols understated the effect of his three blasts.

"I don't try to hit homers," he said. "I try to go out there and have good at-bats. If I put a good swing on the ball, then it is going to go out of the park. I didn't try to hit the first one or the second one or the third one. I just try to have good at-bats."

He nearly hit another one in the eighth, flying out to the warning track in left field.

"He hit it well, but just got under it a little bit," La Russa said.

Still, the early offense and Reyes' superb pitching was all the Cardinals needed.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.