ST. LOUIS -- On Saturday afternoon, Albert Pujols and the Cardinals saved their best for last.
As shadows crept across the field at Busch Stadium, the Cards' never-say-die attitude was on full display. Tony La Russa's club kept battling, as it has all season, and the Cardinals beat the Cubs, 5-4, in 12 innings on Pujols' second homer of the game.
It was Pujols' ninth career walk-off home run -- his first this season -- and came in his 41st multihomer game. Pujols hit Jeff Samardzija's 2-1 breaking ball into the Cubs' bullpen to secure the Cards' second win in as many games.
The three-time National League Most Valuable Player returned to the form most have been accustomed to seeing during his 10-plus years in the Majors, with his three-hit effort Saturday the latest in a career chock-full of clutch hits.
"I've seen it happen quite a few times in my three years here," Cardinals reliever Trever Miller said.
Pujols belted a two-run homer in the fourth to put the Cards on the board first. The slugger hit Chicago starter Randy Wells' 2-1 offering 410 feet to right-center field for his 11th home run of the year.
While La Russa has stayed true in his stance that Pujols wasn't struggling at the plate -- earlier this year, the first baseman had a career-long drought of 106 at-bats without a homer -- and simply needed luck to turn his way, there was nevertheless a sense of relief in the clubhouse after the game. In fact, Pujols' breakout game was just what the doctor ordered for a ballclub coming off a disappointing series against the Giants.
"People have been waiting for this for a long time," Miller said. "They knew it was going to come. The guy is supremely talented.
"I'm happy for him. You could tell, as a teammate, things were not right with him, and to see him smiling after the game and see his confidence come back is going to give us a shot in the arm, and it's at the right time."
Pujols knew it was only a matter of time before his sharply hit balls stopped turning into outs and started finding their way over the fence.
"If you look at last month, I think I hit the ball harder than anybody in the league, and I just didn't get any results," Pujols said. "That's the way it is. You can't get frustrated. You just hopefully continue to put a good swing, and hopefully when your time comes, you get those base hits and those home runs at the right time."
Since returning to St. Louis on Monday for a seven-game homestand, Pujols has blasted four home runs and is heating up at the right time, with cleanup man Matt Holliday on the disabled list. That's bad news for the rest of the NL Central as the Cards prepare to face off with Houston and Milwaukee on their upcoming road trip following Sunday's finale with Chicago.
"Once he gets going and does what he's been doing for years and years, it's scary for the opponent," Ryan Theriot said.
Yes, Pujols shined on Saturday, but so, too, did the Cards' relievers, retiring the last 17 batters they faced. The bullpen effectively shut the Cubs down and gave the offense every chance to win as the game wore on into extra innings. But Chicago's 'pen was equally solid, La Russa noted, save for Samardzija's final pitch.
"Battle of the bullpens; we had Albert," La Russa said.
The amazing thing was, though, that the right-hander's offering wasn't even in the strike zone.
"I thought I made a pretty good pitch," Samardzija said. "He put the barrel on it, and the ball went. That's Albert Pujols for you."
Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse allowed four earned runs on 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings, striking out five. After some early trouble, Lohse settled in and kept the Cubs at bay until the sixth, an inning that's caused Lohse issues this year.
Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer on the first pitch he saw from Lohse to knot the game at 2. After two more run-scoring hits, Lohse's day was done. He's allowed 23 earned runs on the season, with 10 of those coming in the sixth.
"I just left some balls up," Lohse said. "The pitches that I was making earlier, I just didn't make."
The Cards promptly responded, though, in their half of the sixth. Theriot led off with a single to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 18 games, the longest active streak in the Majors. Back-to-back RBI knocks from Pujols and Lance Berkman tied the game, taking Lohse off the hook for the loss.
Matt Carpenter made his Major League debut for the Cardinals, starting at third base, and went 1-for-5 with a double. The Cards' latest callup flashed impressive leather in the third, diving to his right to snag a ball down the third-base line for his first big league putout.
Wells lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on three hits.
St. Louis, which leads Milwaukee in the NL Central by two games, improved to 3-3 on its current seven-game homestand and 4-4 in extra innings.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.