Skip Schumaker's three-run homer set the tone for a bombardment of Aaron Harang as the Cardinals throttled the Reds, 9-3, at Great American Ball Park on Saturday night. It was the Cards' fourth straight win and 12th in 19 games.
Harang hardly resembled the pitcher who quietly has been one of the National League's best for several years now, but such dismantlement nonetheless had to count as a surprise. Seven days earlier in Chicago, it was Carlos Zambrano on the receiving end of such a treatment. Both times it was a sweet shellacking of a familiar foe.
"It just shows that we're going to compete," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "This guy is really good. I know early on [this season], Harang pitched as good as anybody, he just couldn't get any runs. Then he got sore. It's tough to come back and get everything together once you've been off for a while. He's quality."
He just didn't show it against the Cards, permitting three homers in a game for only the ninth time in his Major League career -- and the first time in 16 career starts against St. Louis.
Schumaker's eighth long ball of the year capped a five-run second inning, and it came one batter after the inning nearly ended on a potential double-play ball. Aaron Miles beat out the throw to first base on the play, keeping the inning alive. The next batter was Schumaker, who cranked an 0-1 pitch 410 feet onto the grass berm past the wall in center field. The Cardinals had trailed, 1-0, before the outburst.
Albert Pujols added a pair of solo home runs, his 25th and 26th of the year, to help propel the rout. Ryan Ludwick hit No. 31 on the season, a two-run jack in the fourth inning. The four homers equaled a team single-game high for the season.
"Our offense looks good right now," Ludwick said. "Our main goal as a team offensively is to try to get as many [runs] up there as possible, make it easier on the starter. We just need to continue to roll with it."
Over their last 19 games, the Cardinals have scored 108 runs, more than 5.6 per game. They've hit 26 homers in that span, including seven games in which they've hit at least two. La Russa detests talk of the long ball, but it's a big part of the Cards' success when things are going well offensively.
|"Our main goal as a team offensively is to try to get as many [runs] up there as possible, make it easier on the starter. We just need to continue to roll with it."|
|-- Ryan Ludwick|
On the other side, the Redbirds got yet another solid starting pitching performance, something that's become routine lately.
Though Joel Pineiro has, at times, treated leads like hot potatoes this season, on Saturday he gave a clinic in the art of pitching with a big cushion. He threw tons of strikes, and though those strikes led to a pair of home runs, solo homers are merely a venial sin when a hurler holds an eight-run advantage -- especially at Great American Ball Park
"The two pitches I left up, in this ballpark it makes a difference," Pineiro said.
Pineiro got through his six innings on a tidy 81 pitches, with 57 of those offerings going for strikes -- more than 70 percent. He has won three straight starts for the first time since last August, and has issued just four walks in six starts since the All-Star break. Pineiro has lasted through the sixth inning in four straight outings, marking the first time he's had such a streak since July 2006.
"I'm just trusting my stuff -- letting the defense work and going out there and trying to keep a low pitch count," he said.
At 70-56, the Cardinals reached 14 games over .500 for the second time this year, equaling their high-water mark for the season. They have a chance to equal their longest winning streak of the year on Sunday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.