Albert Pujols is doing things that even he has never done before, and he did it again on Wednesday. Pujols' two home runs paced the Cardinals in a 5-1 win over the Brewers at Miller Park. It was the Cards' 31st win in 40 games, trimming their magic number for winning the National League Central to 12.
And while it's been a memorable season for the Cardinals as a team, it's been a defining one for Pujols, even by his own staggeringly high standards. His two long balls on Wednesday were his 46th and 47th of the season, pulling him within two of his career high. He now has 124 RBIs, 13 away from a personal best, and his .698 slugging percentage is higher than he's managed in any previous season. All with more than three weeks to play.
"I don't know how anybody could ever be better than he is," said Adam Wainwright, who turned in a fine game himself. "Ever. No offense to Henry Aaron and all those guys. I'm sorry, Hank. Albert Pujols is really, really good."
Wainwright, meanwhile, kept rolling as he increased his Major League-leading victory total to 18. He has won six consecutive decisions, and the Cardinals are 15-3 in his past 18 starts. Wainwright struck out six against one walk and held the Brewers to five hits. He topped the 200-inning mark for the second time in three seasons as a big league starter, and his ERA dropped to 2.59.
The Cardinals scored in three innings, and Pujols played a key role every time. His two-run homer capped a three-run fifth that put the Cardinals firmly in control of the game, stretching a 1-0 lead to 3-0. That shot, which brought home Colby Rasmus from third base, was the first of his career off of former teammate and good friend Jeff Suppan.
"He left a pitch up, and I took advantage and hit it out of the park," Pujols said. "It could have been a double, a ball off the wall. In that situation, my main job was to try and drive in that run however I could. Elevate the ball and try to hit it deep enough so Colby could score from third base. I wasn't thinking about hitting the ball out of the park in that situation."
Pujols added a solo blast in the seventh for insurance against another ex-teammate, Chris Narveson. And in the first inning, his single moved Rasmus from first to third. Rasmus scored the game's first run on Matt Holliday's sacrifice fly. Rasmus also had a fine game at the plate. He walked, tripled, singled, drove in a run and scored twice.
But offensively, the game belonged to Pujols.
"He does [miss] mistakes, but he's good at hitting them," Suppan said. "I've made mistakes against him before that were popups or grounders, but for the most part, he's very good at hitting them and driving them. It's a big situation any time you face him."
Pujols stretched his lead in the Major League home run race to six over the D-backs' Mark Reynolds. He also pulled within one of Prince Fielder for the big league RBI lead with 124, and scored his 115th and 116th runs to extend an already healthy lead in that category. Pujols is 16-for-34 (.471) with six home runs in September.
"I'm putting good swings every at-bat," he said. "That's it. I'm not a home run hitter. I'm a line-drive hitter who is pretty strong and can hit the ball out of the park. I don't tell myself that I'm a home run hitter. I go out there and try to use the gaps, try to hit the ball in the gap."
While Pujols has almost certainly locked up his third NL Most Valuable Player Award, Wainwright continues to strengthen his case for his first NL Cy Young Award. He's one of at least three serious contenders, along with teammate Chris Carpenter and the Giants' Tim Lincecum.
"It would be cool," he admitted. "It would be awesome to win that. But winning for the team comes first. If I could get another ring, of course I would rather do that. But you win an award like that, all the hard work that you've done going into the season and during the season, the adjustments you made during the season, it's paying off. Whether I win it or not, I still feel pretty good about my season."
As do the Cardinals. Their win on Wednesday was their 84th of the season, two shy of their total in 2008 and one more than they won in '06 -- when they went on to win the World Series. If they could go 16-5 over their final 21 games, they would reach 100 wins for the third time in six years.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less