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Ludwick, Pujols lead Cards' barrage

Ludwick, Pujols lead barrage

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SAN DIEGO -- The Cardinals have found their cleanup hitter, and Albert Pujols has found his groove. It's a combination so potent that even spacious PETCO Park couldn't keep the Redbirds contained.

Ryan Ludwick further strengthened his grip on the No. 4 spot in the St. Louis batting order with another huge night, and Pujols enjoyed his first two-homer game in nearly six weeks, as St. Louis throttled the reeling Padres, 8-2, on Monday.

It was the third straight win for the previously slumping Cardinals, who started a six-game West Coast road trip with a flourish.

"We've been playing pretty good baseball," Pujols said. "We've got a couple losses here and there on the last road trip that were pretty tough, but I think we're bouncing back."

Five years ago, the idea that Ludwick might become a legitimate cleanup option for a big league club would not have been far-fetched. A top prospect in the A's organization, and a top prize in a trade to Texas, he was a promising young slugger with power, speed and defensive skill.

Yet it took until mid-2007 with the Cardinals that he finally settled in full-time in the big leagues. And another year after that for him to seize on the chance to bat behind Pujols, at least arguably the game's best hitter.

"I don't know if I'm a .330 hitter," said Ludwick, who actually brought his batting average up to a sparkling .350 on Monday. "But I definitely feel like I have a better approach and a better game plan at the plate now. I feel like I have better strike zone judgment, and I feel like I've matured a little bit as a hitter. It all goes back to trying to get a good pitch to hit and hitting it hard. Right now, things are going good."

Skip Schumaker led off the game with a single for St. Louis and stole second. Yet neither Brian Barton nor Pujols could drive him home, and with two outs it looked like another wasted opportunity. Then Ludwick came to the plate, and drilled a deep drive to left field. Scott Hairston got a glove on the ball but couldn't catch it, and Ludwick had his team-leading 12th homer of the year.

"I'm not going to give it back," he said. "I'll take it."

Two innings later, Pujols and Ludwick were the table-setters in a mini-rally that produced Yadier Molina's RBI hit-by-pitch. And in the fifth, the two mashers got things going again. Pujols cranked an absolutely monstrous home run to left field, conservatively estimated at 405 feet, to make it 4-1, Cardinals.

The ball was the ninth in PETCO Park history to reach the third deck of the Western Metal Supply building, and it appeared to be still rising when it hit the structure. Ludwick followed with a single that led to another run, and the Redbirds were rolling.

"I didn't see it," Pujols said. "I hit it, and I knew it was going to stay fair."

Handed a healthy lead, starter Todd Wellemeyer marched to another victory. Wellemeyer pitched six effective innings for St. Louis, allowing two runs on six hits, striking out two against three walks. It makes four straight starts in which Wellemeyer has allowed two runs or fewer, and five in a row without allowing a home run.

Yet his teammates weren't done. In the sixth, Ludwick added an RBI double, and Pujols crushed a second home run in the eighth.

"He's possibly the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, so any time he gets pitches to hit, he's going to do some damage," Ludwick said. "He's done it his whole life. Tonight was a big night. Both those balls were launched. It's good. Any time he gets going and he gets pitched to, I have a feeling we're going to put more runs on the board."

Pujols is hitting .364 on the year and has five multihit games in his last six contests. He has at least one base hit in every game but one in which he's appeared this month. Yet Ludwick is even hotter, hitting .400 with a ridiculous .927 slugging percentage in May. He has eight home runs in his last 40 at-bats.

"Everybody's paying attention to what those two guys are doing," said manager Tony La Russa.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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