06/01/2004 10:16 PM ET
Pujols eases pain of Rolen loss
First baseman equals career high with five hits
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Albert Pujols continued his assault on anyone standing on a mound and throwing a baseball, and the Cardinals buried the Pirates early in an 8-1 win at PNC Park on Tuesday night. Pujols enjoyed the second five-hit game of his career, both of which have come in Pittsburgh.
|Albert Pujols admires the flight of his ninth-inning double on Tuesday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
The two-time MVP runner-up went 5-for-5 with a home run, two doubles, three runs scored and three RBIs. The five hits equaled a career high, previously set at PNC Park last year. The home run was his Major League-leading 16th, and he has four straight multi-hit games. Over those four games, Pujols is 13-for-18 and he has brought his batting average up from .280 to .321.
For his career, Pujols is 47-for-114 (.412) at PNC Park with 12 homers and 37 RBIs in 26 games. He's currently riding a 10-game hitting streak, and he's reached base a staggering 21 times in his last six games.
"I don't think about it," he said. "I don't want to think about it. Because when I think about it, that's when I start trying to do too much. Right now, I just let it happen. That's what I've been doing the last five games or so. Before, I was thinking too much, where my hands were and my legs and am I pulling too much. Now I just see the ball and hit it."
Pujols' surge has coincided with a hot streak for the Cardinals, not surprisingly. St. Louis has won five out of six to improve to a season-best five games over .500. The Cards are tied with Houston for second place in the NL Central, 2 1/2 games behind Cincinnati, and their 17-9 road record is the game's best.
It could turn out to be a costly win, however. All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen left the game in the first inning after being hit by a Ryan Vogelsong pitch. Rolen stayed in the game long enough to score a run, but was removed before he could take the field defensively in the bottom of the inning. The five-time Gold Glover is considered day-to-day with a mild concussion and will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
On the field, however, everything was rosy for the Redbirds.
Ray Lankford contributed two hits, a walk and three runs, and Jim Edmonds drove in a pair as St. Louis chased Pittsburgh starter Ryan Vogelsong (1-5) after two innings. The Pirates bullpen did an admirable job limiting the damage after the Cardinals hung five on Vogelsong, but it hardly mattered.
Vogelsong will be just as glad if he never sees the Cardinals again. In two starts against St. Louis this year, he's 0-2 and has given up 11 runs in eight innings (12.38 ERA).
Jeff Suppan won his second straight start against his old team, lasting seven-plus innings and limiting the Buccos to a run on six hits. He departed in the eighth with two men on, but Ray King worked out of the jam to preserve the big lead.
"Either way, if it's 0-0 or the score is in our favor or their favor, you basically have to go out and make pitches and break it down to the smallest level," said Suppan. "You've got to get ahead, you've got to get the ball down, you've got to change speeds. That's what I try to do. I try to make the pitches that I have to make."
His job was made much easier by the slugging first baseman, however. A week ago, there were questions about whether Pujols was in a slump, and what it would take for him to break out of it.
Now, the only question is how hot he can get. The defending National League batting champion was hitting for power all along, but now he's got his batting average and on-base percentage back in more familiar territory.
"I don't care about the power numbers," he said. "It's great to have power numbers, but I care about my batting average more. If I can hit .350 or .340, that means that I'm gonna drive more runs in. If I hit .280 with 40 home runs, 30-some home runs, I'm not gonna drive as many runs in as I want to."
Pujols rapped out base hits against four different Pirates pitchers, capped off by a double in the ninth against hard-throwing closer Jose Mesa. His three runs and two doubles both tied personal single-game bests.
"I think my best swing tonight was that last hit, because I really trusted my hands in there," Pujols said. "He threw me a 95-mph fastball inside and I just put a good swing on it. I know already that my hands are quick enough, but I know that everything is just coming through right where I want to be right now."
All that's left for Pujols' teammates to do at this point is marvel.
"His numbers speak for themselves," said manager Tony La Russa. "He's done more than pick it up. He's seeing the ball better, doing all the things he's done right for three years."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.