Pujols, Ludwick slug Cards to victory

Pujols, Ludwick slug Cards to victory

ST. LOUIS -- El Hombre put on a show, because in St. Louis, Albert Pujols is the man. And Ryan Ludwick, he tossed in a little bit of flavor to spice up the side.

Putting on a display of some incredibly fine hitting, Pujols and Ludwick made sure the Dodgers heard their names loud and clear every time they stepped up to home plate on Wednesday. By the end of the night, the two combined to go 7-for-9 with two home runs and six RBIs.

Needless to say, it was enough to give the Cardinals a 9-6 triumph over the Dodgers, and now back-to-back wins in the series.

"The best part about it is that we're winning," said Ludwick. "I felt like I had the best seat in the house tonight, following Albert. He looked really good at the plate tonight, and that was fun to watch."

When the words "hottest hitter" are breathed in the same sentence as the Cardinals, the once clear picture of Pujols is now muddled with Ludwick. The journeyman who was plagued by injuries to start his career overcame it all and battled back to appear in the 2008 All-Star Game.

Both players are having supreme offensive years to lead the Cardinals hitters, who needed very little extra help Wednesday night. Ludwick has belted 29 home runs on the year, and Pujols has chipped in 23 more. Both are hitting over .300, and both have driven in at least 70 runs.

"I'll let you guys play with it, play with my numbers," Pujols said. "I don't think about homers, I don't think about RBIs. If it's four, five, three at-bats every night, I'm going to my best. Is that going to happen where I'm going to have great at-bats? Probably no. But I can tell you in my mind, that's what I want to try to do every night."

And while it was more than enjoyable for the fans to see two of their biggest stars perform to their Mount Everest on the same night, the Cardinals still had to worry about the ninth inning.

Not tonight.

Chris Perez trotted in from the right-field bullpen with a backdrop of uncertainty revolving around the closer's role. A night after Jason Isringhausen and Co. blew a 4-0 lead in the ninth inning, Perez entered with the Cardinals up three runs with a runner on second base.

Recalled from Triple-A Memphis prior to the start of the game, Perez used his blazing fastball and devastating sinker to baffle the folks from Chavez Ravine.

Facing six hitters, Perez retired five of them and walked one, striking out two.

"This guy is trying to make his mark," said manager Tony La Russa. "He had Jeff Kent, they had momentum, that's run No. 7 on second base. Then he gets to three outs, and he has the top of the lineup. I think it was a very tough eighth-inning and ninth-inning situation, and he handled it with impressive style.

"Let him fly under the radar screen for a bit."

Added Perez, "That's what I felt like when [La Russa] told me I was going back out there in the ninth -- that this is my chance."

Pitching for his first win since July 8, Joel Pineiro was once again given an early lead, only to squander it right away, leading his manager to think, "Here we go again."

But as Pineiro began to settle down through the help of catcher Yadier Molina, the Cardinals offense began to pick up speed and give him more than a slight cushion.

Pujols doubled in the third inning and scored on Ludwick's single. Ludwick later scored on a single from Molina to tie the score at 3-3. The following inning, Pujols approached the plate with the bases loaded and belted his sixth career grand slam. Ludwick followed with his solo home run. He has hit at least one home run over the past five games, tying a franchise record.

Backed by a 7-3 lead, Pineiro went to work and bailed out the bullpen, lasting seven innings and eventually giving up four runs.

It's better. "I felt like two completely different pitchers there," Pineiro said. "For some reason, it kind of clicked in after that third inning."

The Cardinals found themselves in a slight bit of controversy in the eighth inning, though it did not tarnish a solid all-around effort. Dodgers manager Joe Torre sent Mark Sweeney to the plate to pinch-hit, but removed him for Kent. Because Sweeney entered the box and was substituted, he could not return to the game.

Torre took issue with the call and the Dodgers would play the game under protest, but La Russa believed the umpires made the right decision.

"Once he reaches the box, according to the ruling, he's in the game," La Russa said. "When Kent came up and they announced Kent, then Sweeney was out of the game. ... I don't think there was [a violation], so I think we're good. I'm not going to speculate."

Once again, the Cardinals kept pace with the Cubs and Brewers, staying a half-game behind Milwaukee and 5 1/2 behind Chicago.

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