Cardinals power their way past Reds

Cardinals power their way past Reds

ST. LOUIS -- Sitting in the dugout, dripping with sweat and upset with himself at how he pitched, Brad Thompson wasn't the least bit surprised at what he saw develop in the bottom of the seventh inning on Wednesday.

The righty, making his sixth start of the season, watched Ryan Ludwick hammer a home run to tie the game, and then saw Albert Pujols hit a two-run home run three hitters later to give the Cardinals a 6-4 lead. A lead that would stand up for the final score, as the Cards won the second game of a three-game series against the Reds.

"I think everybody has a meeting before I pitch and says, 'Hey, Brad is going to need these runs, let's go get them,'" Thompson said. "It was a fun game to watch. I kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."

Giving the Cardinals a chance to win has quickly become Thompson's specialty. The reliever-turned-starter has seen his team have a lot of success with him on the mound, as the Cards are 5-1 in games that he starts.

Pretty good for a guy who only had one career start coming into this season, and was beginning to settle into the Cards bullpen.

But, because of an injury to ace Chris Carpenter, Thompson got a shot at being a starter and has made the best of it. His numbers won't blow anyone away, and his stuff isn't overwhelming, but when he's on the mound, the Cards have a chance to come away with a win.

"It's amazing with that sweet face he's got, he's got the shortest fuse on the club," manager Tony La Russa said. "He didn't blow up. He beat himself up, but didn't blow up. He's very competitive. He never stops fighting."

Thompson had plenty to beat himself up about after allowing three runs in the fifth inning and allowing the Reds to take a 4-1 lead. Thompson quickly settled down and put up a zero in the sixth inning, on just six pitches.

"If I had that same fifth inning as a reliever, that's it. I get to go to the showers," Thompson said. "As a starter, you get to come back and make good on that inning."

Holding the Reds scoreless in the sixth proved to be huge, as a tired, and often-used bullpen over the last week, came in to hold serve over the final three innings, and the offensive power showed its face when Ludwick and Pujols came through in the seventh to secure the win.

With one out in the seventh, Ludwick came up as a pinch-hitter and drilled a home run over the left-field wall to tie the game at 4. It was Ludwick's first home run since May 22, 2005, also against the Reds, and his first RBI since May 15.

Ludwick, who was called up on May 6, said he is starting to feel more comfortable with his role as a pinch-hitter, and was happy to hit for power for the first time in a while.

"I think I take pride in [pinch-hitting]," Ludwick said. "I like to up there and stay as focused as possible. Anytime you haven't hit [a home run] in a while, it's nice to finally get one."

After the 42,029 Cardinals fan saw Ludwick do something he's never done before in a Cards uniform, they then saw Pujols do something he has done many, many times before -- hit a crucial, late-game home run.

After a David Eckstein single and a Chris Duncan strikeout, Pujols delivered the ultimate blow of the game when he smacked a 413-foot home run. It was Pujols' 12th of the season and third in his last three games. The slugger, who said in April, when his average was below .250, he wasn't going to change anything, hasn't backed off of that.

"I knew I was going to come around," Pujols said. "I never changed my work ethic. I kept showing up, watching film and doing my thing."

It seems like almost the entire lineup is starting to come around, as the 3-2 and 2-1 games that kept coming up during the first six weeks of the season are now almost a distant memory.

"Nobody was hitting," Eckstein said. "We're not just getting hits now, we're getting big hits. We're striking when we need to. I think guys are just starting to get hot."

One thing that hasn't changed for the Cards is the performance of their bullpen. Tyler Johnson picked up the win, pitching a scoreless seventh. Randy Flores, Ryan Franklin and Jason Isringhausen combined to get the final six outs, as Isringhausen converted on his 14th save of the season and give the Cards their sixth win in their last seven games.

"I think we got some tired arms out there, but everyone's pitching well," Isringhausen said. "It's fun to see."

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