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CHC@STL: Pujols pounds a 10th-inning walk-off homer

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals needed more late-inning heroics from Albert Pujols on Sunday afternoon, and they got them.

Pujols delivered his second walk-off home run in as many days as the Cards completed a sweep of the Cubs with a 3-2 victory in 10 innings. Having also hit one in the 12th inning on Saturday, he became the first player since Albert Belle in 1995 to hit a walk-off homer in successive extra-inning games. Pujols has 10 walk-off homers in his career.

Pujols had been relatively quiet for most of Sunday but erupted -- prompting the Busch Stadium crowd -- in the 10th. For the second game in a row, the Cubs gambled by pitching to the Cards slugger and paid the price.

"I got a good pitch to hit and just put a good swing on it," Pujols said.

The three-time National League Most Valuable Player launched Chicago reliever Rodrigo Lopez's offering 426 feet into the bleachers in left-center to cap another extra-inning comeback by the Cards.

"I made a mistake on the pitch," Lopez said. "I was supposed to go down and in with some sinking action, and it seemed like the ball stayed flat. Albert's had some really good at-bats in this series and he hit the ball pretty good."

By now, it's safe to say the Cardinals' best hitter is back atop his game. During the Cards seven-game homestand, Pujols smashed five homers, with four coming against Chicago. He finished the three-game series 6-for-11 with seven RBIs.

"He continues to do great things, there's no doubt about it," said St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter. "The things that he's done the last few days have been just like the old Albert."

Carpenter turned in another solid start for the Cards but, once again, didn't get the win. The right-hander threw his second nine-inning game of the year, fanning six and walking two while surrendering two earned runs. Carpenter has been the recipient of poor run support in 2011, with the Cardinals giving their ace an average of 3.7 runs in his 13 starts, the lowest of any pitcher on the Cards' staff. Fernando Salas pitched a scoreless 10th to pick up the win.

Despite another no-decision to remain at 1-5 on the year, Carpenter isn't letting the lack of consistent run support affect his play on the field.

"I control what I can control and that's it," Carpenter said. "I know that these guys are pulling and trying as hard as they can but that's not the point. The point is to win ball games. I'm going to continue to do what I need to do."

Carpenter's teammates, though, admit they're trying everything they can at the plate to give their ace an extra boost.

"Everyone in this clubhouse is pulling for [Carpenter] because he deserves more than that one win he has," Skip Schumaker said.

But the Cards' offense provided just enough pop in the ninth inning to avoid another Carpenter loss, thanks to an RBI double from Ryan Theriot to tie the game and extend his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games, the longest active streak in the Majors. Theriot quickly fell behind 0-2 to Cubs All-Star closer Carlos Marmol but pulled a 2-2 slider into the left-field corner, keeping the Cardinals' hopes alive by scoring pinch-runner Tony Cruz.

"I was looking for the slider the whole time," Theriot said. "I was able to get a slider that I was able to handle and put a good swing on it. I was able to extend the game a little bit and give Albert a chance to win it, and he did."

It was the least Theriot could do for Carpenter, who overcame another humid afternoon in St. Louis. His only win, interestingly enough, came at Chicago on May 10.

"He's holding up his end of the bargain, we just need to hold up ours," Theriot said.

After breezing through the first three innings, Carpenter was touched for two runs in the fourth. After a pair of singles to start the frame, Aramis Ramirez brought two runners home with a double to the gap in right-center.

"[Ramirez] always puts good at-bats on me," Carpenter said. "I threw a good pitch and he still hit it. He's a tough at-bat and he got me there."

Zambrano was equally effective through seven innings, striking out three and allowing a run on five hits. He is still unbeaten at new Busch, with a 6-0 record.

The Cards managed their only run off the Cubs' ace in the sixth. Pujols legged out an infield single to open the inning, then after a single by Jon Jay, came home on a single from Allen Craig.

St. Louis leads Milwaukee in the National League Central by two games. The Cards improved to 5-4 in extra innings and are a season-best 11 games over .500.

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