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Home opener rocks, thanks to Pujols

Home opener rocks, thanks to Pujols

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ST. LOUIS -- For the past couple of years, Albert Pujols' list of conquests has essentially read: the rest of the National League down, one pitcher to go. Now it looks like you can scratch off that one. Pujols has figured out Wandy Rodriguez.

The three-time NL Most Valuable Player kept up his scorching start to the season with a home run and four RBIs as the Cardinals beat the Astros, 5-0, in their 2010 home opener at Busch Stadium on Monday. Rodriguez, who had never allowed a homer to Pujols until Monday, is good -- but he's not superhuman.

"You guys might look at the numbers -- yes, I was 5-for-31, but I look at the quality at-bats that I've got against him," Pujols said. "I had some good quality at-bats. I hit some balls really hard. I had some really good at-bats, and a couple of those balls, if they would have fallen, I would be hitting over .300 against the guy. So I look at those things."

Rodriguez had historically vexed Pujols, but on Monday it was the other way around. Pujols roped a run-scoring single to left field in the first inning to give the Cards the lead. Two innings later, following one-out singles by Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, the league's best player drove a 1-0 curveball from Rodriguez out of the park to make it 4-0.

Entering the game, Pujols had been 5-for-31 with two doubles, no home runs and one RBI against Rodriguez. His home run came in his 39th career plate appearance against the Astros starter.

It's been coming on for a little while. As of early August of last year, Pujols had never managed an extra-base hit or an RBI against Rodriguez. He was 3-for-25 with six walks. At the end of 2009, though, he started to turn things around. An RBI double on Aug. 25 was followed by another double on Sept. 21. On Monday, though, the dam broke.

"You know this guy is a good hitter," Rodriguez said. "Everybody knows about Albert Pujols. If I make a mistake, he wins those because he's a good hitter. That's what happened today."

Over his past three games against Rodriguez, Pujols is 4-for-8 with a home run, two doubles and five RBIs. On the year overall, he's 11-for-27 (.407) with five home runs, 14 RBIs and eight runs scored.

Pujols' heroics, as well as those of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick, came in support of Adam Wainwright. The right-hander turned in a fine outing in his second successive home opener start. Wainwright pitched eight shutout innings, striking out seven against one walk while allowing six base hits. He even chipped in at the plate, walking in the fifth and doubling in the seventh.

Wainwright has struck out 13 against three walks in two starts in 2010. He started out somewhat slowly in 2009, but this year he has burst out of the gate in top form.

"Early last year, he was still a learning pitcher," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's very smart and very dedicated to being not just as good, as great as he can be. And when he has experiences like he did last year a couple times, he learns."

Schumaker rapped two hits and scored three runs for St. Louis, while Ludwick went 4-for-4 with a triple. The Cardinals have scored at least five runs in six of their seven games on the year.

The Cardinals remained atop the NL Central with a 5-2 record. It's the third consecutive season in which St. Louis has won five of its first seven games. The game was played before 46,918 fans, the largest regular-season crowd in the history of the current Busch Stadium. And they were all treated to a great player at his best.

"It's fun to watch him every day," La Russa said of Pujols. "If you love the game of baseball, and you have the opportunity to watch him close, whether it's the practices or the games ... I think a lot of us that don't play, if they asked us for some money back just for the pure enjoyment, I probably would pay to watch him as a manager or coach. He's that great."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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