Pujols boosts Cardinals past Braves

Pujols boosts Cardinals past Braves

ATLANTA -- Annoyed by questions about a power brownout, Albert Pujols is now answering them in the most emphatic way possible: with his bat.

Pujols homered, doubled and scored the winning run on an aggressive baserunning play as the Cardinals topped the Braves, 8-3, at Turner Field on Tuesday night. St. Louis has won three out of four since a five-game losing streak, and the Cardinals have pulled within one game of the Brewers for the National League Wild Card lead.

Trailing by a run in the sixth inning, Pujols drove a no-doubt home run to center field off Jorge Campillo. Two innings later, he laced a line-drive double down the right-field line against Rafael Soriano, then stole third and scored when catcher Corky Miller's errant throw went wild into right field.

Over the past four games, Pujols is 10-for-18 with three home runs, two doubles, eight RBIs and nine runs scored. Before this streak, he had gone 17 games without a home run. His RBI and run totals are both higher than what he managed in the previous 11 games. It's hardly a coincidence that the Cardinals have scored 31 runs in four games, after tallying 41 in their previous nine.

"We struggled a little bit the last six or seven games, but we came back and picked it up again," Pujols said. "It's just one of those things. You're going to struggle. And when you do struggle, you need to figure out a way to win games."

A ninth-inning meltdown by the Braves' bullpen and defense made Pujols' production look less meaningful, but at the time, his plays were game-winners. And when Pujols' spot came up in the ninth, Atlanta took the only reasonable course at that point: intentionally walking the slugger.

The late runs made a winner of Ryan Franklin, who pitched two innings of shutout relief in his first appearance since being removed from his position as the club's interim closer. Franklin ended a slump that had seen him give up home runs in three straight games. He had been scored upon in six of his previous nine outings.

"Just going out there and getting three outs without giving up a run, it felt good," Franklin said. "The last two times out, I've felt just as good. It's just maybe a little bad luck. I threw a lot of good pitches tonight, and I threw one bad pitch, a slider to [Jeff] Francoeur, and he fouled it back."

The beneficiary of Franklin's move back to setup work didn't get to pitch in the game. Ironically, the surest sign yet that Jason Isringhausen has been reinstalled as the Cards' closer is that he didn't pitch the ninth inning on Tuesday.

When the score was 3-2 entering the ninth, it appeared that Isringhausen was in line for a chance at his first save since May 5. However, when the Redbirds surged against Mike Gonzalez and Blaine Boyer, Isringhausen's services were no longer warranted. Rookie Kyle McClellan pitched the ninth.

Todd Wellemeyer received a no-decision despite turning in his best start in a month. Wellemeyer allowed two runs on eight hits over six innings, striking out five and walking one. He had not struck out more than three batters in a game since recording five K's on June 5 -- the same day he came down with an elbow injury.

Wellemeyer made only one start over the ensuing three weeks, although he was never placed on the disabled list. Since his return to action, he has been effective at times but much less dominant than he was before the injury. On Tuesday, he still didn't look all the way back to normal, but after a rocky start he was closer than he had been in a long time.

"I felt all right," he said. "I had my offspeed stuff working, so that's good. I think they were probably sitting on some fastballs, and luckily I had my good stuff working. ... Usually if you're striking dudes out, it's not just on fastballs. You're striking them out on changeups and curveballs and sliders, and I had that working tonight."

The team effort allowed a previously slumping Cardinals team to put itself in position for yet another winning road trip. St. Louis is 3-2 on its current trip, needing one win in the final two games to ensure its fifth straight break-even or better trip.

And likely even more important, with a win and a Brewers loss to the Cubs on Wednesday, the Cards would be in a virtual tie for a playoff spot on the morning of July 31, the day of Major League Baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"It's a close race, but there's still a lot of season left," Pujols said. "There's two months in the season, and whoever plays the best, that's who's going to come out on top. Hopefully that will be us, but the Cubs and Milwaukee, they're playing pretty good. ... I'm just glad that we're playing better than we did last year and we've given ourselves an opportunity to try to get in the postseason.

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