SAN DIEGO -- Albert Pujols ended the longest home run drought of his career Monday, one of several pieces to a 3-1 victory for the Cardinals that opened a three-game series against the Padres.
Pujols hadn't homered in 105 at-bats when he hit Dustin Moseley's fastball into PETCO Park's left-field seats, one row back, for his first home run since April 23 and eighth this season.
Neither Pujols nor his Cardinals teammates were sweating the slugger's power dip, manager Tony La Russa saying afterward that the homer, which broke a 0-0 tie in the sixth inning, was noteworthy for only one reason.
"One run," La Russa said. "He's been hitting the ball hard."
The return of Skip Schumaker from the disabled list was as important as Pujols' home run, as the second baseman doubled off closer Heath Bell in the ninth and scored the decisive run.
In the more-of-the-same department, pitcher Kyle Lohse (6-2) worked eight innings for the fifth time this year, and rookie Daniel Descalso, knocking home Schumaker with a single, had his ninth RBI that yielded a tie or a lead.
Toss in Colby Rasmus taking a home run from former Cardinals teammate Ryan Ludwick, and it added up to the seventh win in eight games for the National League Central leaders.
"This club is fun because they gut it out," La Russa said.
Pujols left the clubhouse while reporters talked to Lohse, a sign that Pujols didn't think his home run, the 416th of his career, was a big deal, even if it ended a dry spell that was 26 at-bats longer than his previous longest one.
"He brings so much that the stats don't capture, in terms of presence in the lineup," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said before Monday's game.
Said La Russa: "He just keeps hitting it hard. Once in a while because he's human, he has a bad at-bat. They're pitching him like he's hitting .350, so every at-bat is tough for him."
Pujols was called out looking by plate umpire Jim Joyce on a ball Pujols clearly thought was not a strike. La Russa ran out of the dugout, and ended up getting ejected by Joyce.
Earlier, the 1-0 lead that Pujols gave to Lohse in the sixth lasted only until the seventh, when Padres pinch-hitter Jorge Cantu tied it with a sacrifice fly. Chase Headley, who had hit a leadoff double, scored on Cantu's drive to right field.
Schumaker had missed 34 games because of triceps tendinitis, yet he obviously made good use of his time at the team's training site in Jupiter, Fla., where he fielded ground balls and got 15 plate appearances against Minor Leaguers.
Afield, the second baseman's deft catch of a one-hop smash helped Lohse to survive Brad Hawpe's leadoff double in the second.
In the ninth, Schumaker hit a one-out double off Bell, a byproduct of not only his liner to right-center but a quick burst out of the batter's box, smooth cornering of first base and a direct slide that allowed him to beat Chris Denorfia's laser throw by inches.
"Great throw," Schumaker said. "Out of the box, I thought it was a no-doubt double."
Descalso, whose one-out double off Padres starter Dustin Moseley went for naught in the fourth, tested Denorfia next with a sharp single, but this time, the right fielder's throw was so wide that Descalso was able to take second base. Ryan Theriot scored him with a two-out single, giving closer Fernando Salas an extra run, not that he needed it in bagging his eighth save in eight attempts.
Descalso is batting only .213, but the utility infielder continues to affirm the scouting report given La Russa by his Minor League managers.
"They all said the same thing about him: winning player," La Russa said. "That's probably the best compliment you can give a guy."
Lohse's success also is more about substance than flash, and was again Monday across the eight innings with five strikeouts and five hits. Lohse gave out only one walk, the sixth time in his 10 starts this year it's been one walk or fewer. "I had pretty good stuff and was able to use it for the most part and keep guys off balance," he said.
The game's most theatrical moment aside from the Pujols homer was Rasmus leaping to snag Ludwick's blast in the first, then trotting toward the infield as everyone in the ballpark, Ludwick included, watched to see if he had the ball.
Yep, that's why he was running toward the dugout.
"It was kind of weird -- everybody was looking at me," Rasmus said.
Among the curious was Ludwick, who stood on second base.
"Luddy was staring me down," Rasmus said. "I felt kind of bad. I know Ludwick pretty well, played with him a couple of years. I think he probably wasn't happy I made the catch."
Even with sore-legged Matt Holliday and his .349 batting average out of the lineup and the sore-wristed Berkman struggling to replace him in left, where a line drive sailed by for a double, the Cardinals increased their lead to 3 1/2 games, their largest since May 9, 2010.
Tom Krasovic is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.