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STL@FLA: Pujols hammers a solo homer to left-center

MIAMI -- Albert Pujols had a rough series against the Brewers, but the slugger crushed Marlins pitching on Thursday night.

Pujols had three hits to push the Cardinals past the Marlins, 7-4, before 20,011 fans at Sun Life Stadium.

"We still have three more games left here," Pujols said. "This is just one win. We need to continue to do it tomorrow."

The Cardinals slugger was 3-for-4 with a double, a home run and three runs scored on Thursday. Marlins reliever Mike Dunn finally retired Pujols in the eighth, but by then it was too late as the Cardinals scored early and often in the series opener.

"Albert gets pitched tough all the time and he's just amazing," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He always has had a career where he's been very productive. He's a great hitter and a great player."

Marlins starter Clay Hensley got himself into a jam early and Matt Holliday got the Cardinals offense going. Hensley issued back-to-back walks to Jon Jay and Pujols with one out in the first before Holliday lined a three-run homer that just got over the big wall in left to give the Cardinals an early lead.

But Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse allowed the Marlins to even the score when he gave up three runs in the bottom of the first. His night would be short as he was pulled after just three innings. Lohse allowed three runs on seven hits while walking three.

"I'm at a loss for what happened tonight," Lohse said. "I'm not happy about it. I've got to get back to work and figure it out."

Kyle McClellan, who recently joined the bullpen after starting for most of the season, replaced Lohse and earned his ninth win of the season by pitching three shutout innings in relief.

"He's valuable because he pitches three innings or he can go in there and get one out or three outs or pitch the ninth," La Russa said. "He's a very valuable piece to the bullpen."

St. Louis took a 4-3 lead in the third when David Freese was hit in the head by an 85-mph changeup, forcing in a run. Freese was attended to by the trainer and left the game under his own power before being replaced by Daniel Descalso. He has been diagnosed with a mild concussion and a contusion and will be re-evaluated on Friday.

"It's not how you would want to get one but I'll take it," Freese said of the RBI. "It was the deciding factor in us winning the ballgame. The 'pen came in and did a great job. Things like this happen. If you play this game, you're going to take one every now and then."

The Cardinals would add two more runs in the third on a Skip Schumaker double to take their second three-run lead of the night. Schumaker finished the night with three hits and a pair of RBIs.

Pujols' towering solo homer in the fourth capped the Cardinals scoring. The blast was his 25th of the year and the 433rd of his career. Pujols is just one homer away from tying Juan Gonzalez for 39th on the all-time list.

The Marlins threatened in the eighth as they loaded the bases against Octavio Dotel. Jason Motte was then brought in and retired two batters before Marc Rzepczynski entered the game to face lefty Greg Dobbs. Rzepczynski gave up an RBI single, but Fernando Salas came in and retired Gaby Sanchez to end the rally and secure a key win.

"You need them all," La Russa said. "We got out early and then they tied and we came back. Lohse made some good pitches but when he missed they were on them. It was just one of those nights for him. We used up the bullpen but we got a win."

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