Ankiel's third straight multi-hit game kept the Cardinals' offense chugging in a 5-2 win over the Reds at Busch Stadium on Wednesday afternoon. St. Louis improved to 18-11 on the year, good for the team's most wins ever in the season's first month.
In the three-game series against Cincinnati, Ankiel went 8-for-13 with five RBIs, three runs scored and four extra-base hits. That followed an 11-game dry spell in which Ankiel was just 7-for-38 with one extra-base hit and no RBIs.
"He got every hit possible," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He hit bullets. He hit 'tweeners. He hit bloopers. ... He's their hottest guy. You hate to pitch to their hottest guy, but Albert [Pujols] is always their hottest guy. You have to pick your poison right now. You certainly don't want to face Albert if you don't have to."
That's exactly the way the Cardinals want their offense to work. And it's just what they've been seeking throughout April, as they've tried out a number of different combinations in the lineup spots before and after Pujols. For the moment, a torrid Ankiel in the cleanup spot is getting the job done.
"I feel like I've seen great pitches lately," Ankiel said. "Maybe when you're not going good, you might go out of the zone. That allows them to throw pitches out of the zone, not necessarily in it."
The top of the order also did its job in the win. Skip Schumaker doubled and scored, and Aaron Miles singled, doubled, scored twice and drove in two runs. After using sluggers in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, the Cardinals have gone with their second baseman there the past two days. It's worked well, allowing the bashers to drive in runs -- like Ankiel on Wednesday.
Twice the offense worked around Pujols, and benefited from Pujols, even though he wasn't credited with any runs or RBIs. After Miles singled home Schumaker in the third, Pujols singled Miles into scoring position. Ankiel followed with a run-scoring single that made it 3-2. In the seventh, after an RBI double by Miles made it 4-2, Pujols was intentionally walked. Ankiel followed with another RBI single, extending the Cardinals' lead to three.
The offense supported Braden Looper (4-1), who made it five solid outings in six April starts. Looper fell short of the brilliance he displayed five days earlier against Houston, but he was happy to trade it for a win.
"I was really pleased," Looper said. "I didn't start off so good. I didn't feel nearly as sharp as I did last time, so I was really happy that I was able to kind of battle through it. I threw a lot of pitches early. They were putting good at-bats on me, and I was able to limit the damage. As a pitcher, that's satisfying."
Looper allowed two runs on seven hits, striking out four and walking two. He really only got into trouble once. Edwin Encarnacion led off the second with a home run, and Joey Votto followed that with a double and eventually scored. After the second, Cincinnati only got one runner into scoring position against Looper.
Four Cardinals pitchers combined to pitch the last three innings, with Jason Isringhausen closing it out. Isringhausen has nine saves this season and is now 10 shy of 300 for his career. The right-hander had been in a slump recently, so a perfect ninth was a bit of a relief.
"I don't think he's ever really gotten beat up," manager Tony La Russa said. "There's been one pitch that he missed here, one ball that found a hole. ... [But] 1-2-3, that's a nice way to go to the off-day."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.