Albert Pujols and Brian Barton are at opposite ends of the spectrum in their respective Major League careers, but those two came together in perfect harmony to boost the Cardinals to a 6-3 victory over the Braves on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
Pujols, who is battling Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones for the National League batting crown, capped a sizzling offensive series with a two-run homer in the first inning and finished with a 2-for-2 day. Pujols, who went 8-for-10 in the series, is less than a percentage point behind Jones (.35946 to .35867).
But it took the new kid on the block to put the Cardinals over the top. Barton drew a rare start and produced a career-high three hits, including a two-run double in the second that gave the Cardinals the lead for good. Barton beat out a bunt in the sixth for his third hit and then left for a pinch-runner due to a strained right oblique.
"I actually tweaked it a few days ago, and I aggravated it halfway down the line," Barton said. "Hopefully in the next 24 to 48 hours, I can get a better feel for it."
While he is recovering, Barton will have happy memories of his last game. The big double off Atlanta starter Jo-Jo Reyes came immediately after the Braves had scored three in the second inning to take a 3-2 lead.
"He gave me a changeup that was up in the zone," Barton said. "I was a little out in front, but I was able to put it in play. When I was at [Triple-A] Memphis, that was one of the things I was working on. I wanted to be more aggressive in those situations."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa also got Joe Mather into the lineup on Sunday, and Mather drove in the final two St. Louis runs with a sacrifice fly and a double.
"We have to do our part, too -- just bring a spark off the bench whenever we can," Barton said.
La Russa was particularly happy to see good things happen for Barton and Mather.
"Some of it is talent, and a lot of it is attitude," La Russa said. "Not giving in to a lack of playing time -- just competing."
The six runs were a welcome sight for Looper, who had been just 2-3 over his previous five decisions despite posting a 2.03 ERA in that span. Looper recovered nicely after the shaky second inning, and he got a defensive boost in the sixth when right fielder Ryan Ludwick threw out Jones at the plate as he tried to score from second on a Martin Prado single.
"That's huge," La Russa said.
Looper came back with a scoreless seventh, and the bullpen trio of Russ Springer, Ron Villone and Chris Perez finished the job.
For Looper, it was his sixth straight quality start.
"I've got really good fastball command right now," Looper said. "If I can maintain that, it gives me a chance to succeed."
The Cardinals will enjoy a day off before opening a key two-game set against the Brewers on Tuesday at Busch Stadium. St. Louis goes into those games trailing the NL Wild Card leaders by 3 1/2 games.
"Instead of going to the movies, I start paying attention to the Brewers," La Russa said, referring to his off-day plans.
The Cardinals just hope Pujols can stay in the offensive zone against the Brewers that he was in against the Braves.
"He's an unbelievable hitter, and he's hot right now," Reyes said. "Everything you throw up there, he's hitting."
Pujols made the point that it was pure coincidence that he had an 8-for-10 series with Jones and the Braves in town.
"I respect Chipper Jones. He's a great hitter," Pujols said. "But I play to help my team win. Just because I've got Chipper on the other side and he's leading the league for the batting title ... I play the game hard no matter who is in town."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.