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Pujols cranks a two-run shot in the first

PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals built an early lead and then held off the Pirates to post a 6-4 victory in front of 38,490 fans on Friday night at PNC Park.

The win pulled the Cardinals into a virtual tie with the Pirates for second place in the National League Central, with both clubs a game behind the Brewers, who beat the Giants in San Francisco.

The start was delayed by rain for 31 minutes and there were intermittent showers throughout the game.

Right-hander Chris Carpenter labored through eight innings, allowing four runs on 10 hits for the win and upping his record to 6-7. He is now 12-2 lifetime against the Pirates.

"Carpenter hung in there," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "They hit some balls hard and they had some that weren't hard, but that's just the game. The eighth inning was big to get a zero, and he got it for us."

"It was a battle, and there's no question that I didn't have my best stuff." Carpenter said. "But I was able to make pitches when I had to, and then that one inning when they scored the runs, there was a couple balls that just kind of fell in. Those guys are playing tough and they had tough at-bats, but I was able to make pitches. They hit some balls at some guys. It was a nice win and we scored runs early, and I was able to do what I needed to do to get deep in the game and give us a chance."

Pirates starter Paul Maholm was tagged with the loss, falling to 6-10. Maholm worked six innings and surrendered five runs on 10 hits.

The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in the first inning. With one out, Jon Jay tripled off the right-field scoreboard. Albert Pujols then stroked the first pitch he saw into the right-center-field stands. It was home run No. 22 for Pujols, who continued his torrid hitting against Maholm. Pujols entered the contest batting .576 against the Pittsburgh lefty.

"I don't take anything for granted," Pujols said. "The guy's going to be out there making his pitch, and I'm pretty sure he's not thinking about that either. One night you can be off and another day you can get some good at-bats.

"I always try to have good quality at-bats every night and don't give anything away. That's the same thing I've been doing my [whole] career and I've been successful with it. It doesn't matter if I have good success against a guy, I take every at-bat like it's my last at-bat of my career, believe it or not."

"When [Pujols] gets up there, you do have that understanding that you need to be sharp," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Especially if he's in a good place with the bat, you need to get the ball exactly where you want it."

"You look at all ballparks, and Pujols does it every place he plays," La Russa said. "He's just a phenomenal hitter. There's nothing special about here, he just hits everywhere."

With two outs in the first, Lance Berkman doubled and came home on a two-run home run by David Freese. The Redbirds sent nine batters to the plate against Maholm in the first inning.

"You just get ready to hit," La Russa said. "You have good pitching and you are not going to get many pitches to hit. If you see one, sometimes it's the first one, sometimes it's the third one. Just be ready to hit. There wasn't anything special -- that's kind of the approach all the time."

The Pirates nicked Carpenter for two runs in the second inning. With two outs, Garrett Jones doubled and came around to score on a single by Ronny Cedeno, who was back after a short rehab stint at Triple-A Indianapolis. Cedeno, who had been out of the lineup since sustaining a concussion on July 1, extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Michael McKenry then got on with an infield single, and Maholm singled to center, driving in Cedeno and slicing the Cards' lead to 4-2. McKenry was thrown out trying to go to third on the play, ending the inning.

The Cardinals bounced right back in the third inning with two outs when Yadier Molina doubled and Nick Punto was intentionally walked. Carpenter singled to right-center, knocking in Molina and giving St. Louis a 5-2 lead.

Pittsburgh tallied twice in the sixth inning, cutting the Cards' lead to 5-4. The key blow was a two-run single by Jones, who was thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double.

The Cards got an eighth-inning insurance run when Molina clubbed a home run off reliever Chris Resop.

"It was a fastball up," Molina said. "I was ready for the fastball and I hit it. I thought it was a big run."

Right-hander Fernando Salas pitched a scoreless ninth inning to secure his 18th save.

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