Pujols' two-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish in a 5-1 win over the Padres at PETCO Park on Tuesday afternoon. St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the National League Division Series. Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be played here on Thursday afternoon.
The Cardinals limped into the postseason having lost nine out of 12, but the first round of the postseason always seems to turn them into world-beaters. St. Louis has won five of its six Division Series since the format's inception. In NLDS openers, the Cards are 5-1 and have outscored opponents by a 43-18 margin.
It was a complete team effort on Tuesday. Pujols and ace Chris Carpenter led the way, but nine different Cardinals had a base hit and seven either drove in a run or scored. Ronnie Belliard contributed a critical defensive play, and two rookie relievers got eight big outs.
"Carp pitched great," said Scott Rolen, who doubled and was hit by a pitch. "We got some timely, key hits and great defense. We haven't put that together for a long time. You look down our lineup, our batting order and you haven't seen that for a while either. Everybody seemed to be in the right slots today and we played well."
None of which changes the fact that the game's best hitter had the game's biggest hit. Pujols provided the game's first runs with a monster 422-foot homer that capped an eight-pitch at-bat.
Pujols was nearly erased five pitches before he went deep. On a 1-1 offering from Padres ace Jake Peavy, Pujols popped a ball up straight back. Padres catcher Mike Piazza gave chase, but couldn't rein the ball in, and it dropped harmlessly for a foul ball. On the at-bat's eighth pitch, Pujols made San Diego pay with the 11th playoff home run of his career.
"I thought the ball was in the stands, but it obviously came back," Pujols said. "But I think people were saying it hit the net, kind of hit the net a little bit. But it gave me another chance to hopefully put a good swing like I did, and gave the lead to the club."
Pujols' big fly was far from the only offensive highlight for St. Louis. The Cards got contributions from all over their lineup as they hung 11 base hits on Peavy. Jim Edmonds had a pair of base knocks, Belliard reached base three times and even Yadier Molina added an RBI single. Every player who started for the Cardinals -- including Carpenter -- had at least one hit or scored a run.
Edmonds singled and scored for the Cards' third run against Peavy, with Juan Encarnacion's sacrifice fly bringing him home. Consecutive two-out singles by Pujols and Edmonds in the fifth got David Eckstein from first around to score, making it 4-0, and in the sixth, Molina added an RBI single.
It was classic Edmonds, who played sparingly over the season's final six weeks as he battled post-concussion syndrome. The eight-time Gold Glove center fielder is consistently at his best in big games, and he did it again on Tuesday.
"I'm just excited to be out there playing," said Edmonds, "and it's good to get Game 1."
Carpenter lasted 6 1/3 innings to pick up his third win in four career postseason starts. The Cardinals have won all four of those games. For the second year in a row, Carpenter won against Peavy and the Padres in the opener of the playoffs.
"[Peavy is] going to compete every time he comes out," said Carpenter. "In turn, so am I, and I'm going to go out and give it my best shot. And my mindset is to go out and get the Padres hitters out, not concern myself with what Jake Peavy is doing. Fortunately for me, today I did."
The right-hander breezed through the first three innings, facing the minimum, before things got tough for him in the fourth. Carpenter worked around two singles that opened the inning, escaping with a pair of strikeouts and a grounder.
San Diego finally got on the board in the sixth when Dave Roberts scored after a one-out triple, but Carpenter and rookie lefty Tyler Johnson averted much more damage in the seventh. Following a triple and a walk, Carpenter was lifted.
Johnson hit the first batter he faced, loading the bases, but struck out Mark Bellhorn for the second out. Second baseman Belliard made a spectacular sprawling play on a Todd Walker grounder to end the inning.
"I know [Johnson] likes his breaking ball there," Belliard said. "And I know Walker a little bit. ... He's going to pull the ball. I was playing that way already. But I think I got lucky on that one. I just threw it back to first base and Albert made a good play."
Johnson took it into the eighth before handing the ball over to Adam Wainwright. The rookie right-hander recorded the final four outs. It wasn't a save, but it was a fine introduction to postseason play for the Cards' new closer.
"He came in and threw the ball over the plate," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "That's what you have to do. When you have good stuff, that's what you have to do, and he has good stuff."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.