Albert is back.
After just the fifth hitless series of his career over the weekend, Albert Pujols broke out of his modest slump in a major way, going 4-for-5 with two home runs, a double and five RBIs in the Cardinals' come-from-behind, extra-inning 12-7 win over the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday. The win kept St. Louis in a virtual tie with the Cubs for first place in the National League Central.
After Mark DeRosa was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 10th, Pujols walloped his fifth grand slam of the season off reliever Sean Green to put the game away and culminate the Cardinals' second comeback of the night.
"It's the same swing I've been taking for two weeks," Pujols said. "I didn't put my head down; I tried to find my swing, and that's what I did."
It was the bottom of the Redbirds' order that propelled their biggest rallies of the night. The Cardinals loaded the bases in the 10th off Pedro Feliciano (4-4) on an infield single by Rick Ankiel, a single to right by Julio Lugo and a four-pitch walk to Colby Rasmus. After Feliciano struck out Skip Schumaker, Mets manager Jerry Manuel brought in Sean Green to face DeRosa, who took Green's first pitch for the team and the lead.
Pujols followed by disposing of Green's 0-2 slider into the left-field stands for the 11th grand slam of his career, already a franchise record. Pujols' five grand slams this season also tie Ernie Banks' 1955 NL single-season record.
"I got ahead. I tried to throw a slider in the dirt; it didn't make it to the dirt," Green said. "That's what he does with a bad pitch."
And, it seems, with the bases loaded. In nine at-bats with the bases juiced this season, Pujols has seven hits, five home runs and a mind-boggling 24 RBIs.
"Nothing changes," Pujols said of batting with the bases loaded. "I try to see the ball and put a good swing on it. I don't know why I have five grand slams."
The grand slam was the right bookend to the Cardinals' second comeback of the night, and Pujols was also the craftsman of the left one. He led off the eighth with a solo blast to center off Johan Santana to cut the Mets' lead to 7-5. An inning later against Francisco Rodriguez, Ankiel and Lugo were again the table-setters, each doubling off the Mets' closer. Schumaker then battled back from an 0-2 hole to force a full count before dropping a single into right to plate the tying run.
Such comebacks are becoming a bit of a habit for the Cardinals since the addition of Matt Holliday on July 24. St. Louis had not won a game all season when it trailed heading into the ninth until last Wednesday, when the Cardinals came back on Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in an eventual 15-inning win. They scored two in the eighth to beat the Astros, 4-3, last Friday, and broke a 1-1 tie against Houston the next day with a run in both the seventh and eighth.
"We just started doing it," reliever Todd Wellemeyer said. "We're feeling it now, and it's a good time to start doing it."
"That's how you win games in the playoffs," Pujols said. "You have to beat the bullpen sometimes."
Those late-inning heroics got starter Joel Pineiro off the hook. Pineiro and Santana were supposed to wage a pitchers' duel, both entering the game with ERAs under 3.00 and histories of success pitching in New York.
|"I'm human. Like I say in that commercial, I'm not a machine."|
|-- Albert Pujols, who is 7-for-9 with five homers and 24 RBIs with the bases loaded|
Facing the same team against which he authored a two-hit masterpiece in June, however, Pineiro had his worst outing of the season, surrendering seven runs and 11 hits in five innings. The damage was done with a three-run second -- highlighted by a two-run double by Santana -- and a four-run fifth that featured four consecutive one-out hits.
Pineiro left with a 7-4 deficit, Santana settling into a groove and Rodriguez lurking in the ninth. But the Cardinals' bullpen kept the game within reach, and the new-look deeper offense took advantage.
"We came back to pick him up because he's pitched well when we didn't score runs," Pujols said. "We gave him one back tonight."
Dennys Reyes, Wellemeyer, Kyle McClellan and Ryan Franklin combined to pitch five scoreless innings in relief of Pineiro. McClellan got the win with a scoreless ninth inning, striking out Daniel Murphy with two runners on.
"They give up anything, we don't win," LaRussa said. "Wellemeyer, especially, has been really working to get it, and today he made a lot of good pitches."
But the story was, as it usually is, centered on the man wearing No. 5 -- the man who, after the game, stressed that he was just a man.
"I'm human," Pujols said in reference to his slump over the weekend. "Like I say in that commercial, I'm not a machine."
It's hard to believe that sometimes, especially when the bases are loaded.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.