ST. LOUIS -- Cubs manager Mike Quade had decided before his club's series against the Cardinals how he was going to handle slugger Albert Pujols, and on Saturday, it backfired.
Pujols hit a walk-off homer with two outs in the 12th inning -- securing his second homer of the game and fourth RBI -- to power the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs, who lost their fifth in a row.
"Guys fought their [tails] off," Quade said. "We came up short. And I'll take the heat for that, for pitching to Pujols."
With the game tied at 4 and two outs in the 12th, Quade went to the mound to talk to Jeff Samardzija (3-2) and review their strategy.
"We talked about being real careful," Quade said. "I won't talk about being careful anymore. I'm not in the habit of walking people with two outs and nobody on. I understand how good [Pujols] is. We'll have to rethink that a little bit. The pitcher's spot was three holes away, and that was our salvation. We figured if we could keep him in the ballpark, take your chances."
Samardzija threw two sliders to Pujols and fell behind, 2-0, in the count. The next pitch was a 96-mph fastball that Pujols took. But he connected on the next, another slider, and launched it into the Cubs' bullpen.
"I went out there, and I was looking for one pitch to put my best swing on," Pujols said. "I was able to hit his pitch, which was a slider down and away. I was able to put the barrel on it, and it went out of the park. That's all I can say."
"That was a very good pitch," said Chicago's Carlos Pena, who had tied the game with a two-run homer in the sixth. "It was low, down, almost on the dirt and he hit it."
Samardzija thought it was a good pitch, too.
"He put the barrel on it, and the ball went," Samardzija said. "That's Albert Pujols for you."
Told that Quade was taking responsibility for the loss, Samardzija said the manager didn't need to do that.
"I was the one pitching, and I was the one who gave it up," Samardzija said. "Q's been great. He came out and we talked about it, and we knew the pitcher was a couple hitters away. We weren't going to live down the middle of the plate with Pujols.
"I thought we made a couple pitches there, but then again, if a guy like that is hitting, whatever you think is a good pitch has probably got to be a little better. You've got to get it even down a little more, out a little more."
The Cubs overcame Pujols' first homer -- a two-run shot in the fourth off starter Randy Wells -- by scoring four runs in the sixth. Pena homered, and Tony Campana added an RBI single and scored on Kosuke Fukudome's double. But the Cardinals tied the game at 4 in their half on an RBI double by Pujols and an RBI single by Lance Berkman.
After Pena singled with one out in the seventh, the St. Louis bullpen shut down the Cubs, retiring 17 straight batters.
Wells looked right at home, and he should have. He grew up in nearby Belleville, Ill. In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Wells gave up three hits over 5 2/3 innings. If it weren't for the 95-degree heat, which felt even hotter on the field, he might have been able to go deeper. He retired the first nine batters he faced but walked Ryan Theriot to open the Cardinals' fourth and one out later, Pujols launched his 11th home run.
"He was really good and so economical with his pitches," Quade said of Wells. "If he's more seasoned and it's not 100 degrees, he gets to work through that [sixth]."
The Cardinals loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, but Carlos Marmol struck out Berkman and got pinch-hitter Tony Cruz to fly out to left to end the threat. Marmol went two innings and extended his streak of consecutive scoreless innings on the road to a franchise-record 25 1/3.
The Cardinals now lead the series, 4-1, and can complete a sweep on Sunday.
"Today's a tough loss, but what a great game," Wells said. "That's what this rivalry is all about. Both bullpens pitched great. They came out ahead. I don't want to sit here and talk so much about Albert Pujols, but he's a force. He put a good swing on it, and he's strong as an ox."
And Quade will do what he can to avoid seeing that swing again.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.