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Pujols powers Cards past Reds
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07/15/2004 10:25 PM ET 
Pujols powers Cards past Reds
Morris pitches six innings to pick up 10th win

So Taguchi bunts for an RBI single in the fourth inning. (Mike Simons/AP)
CINCINNATI - Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The Cardinals just happened to be both on Thursday night in Cincinnati and the results were simply great.

Albert Pujols hit his 23rd home run of the season and Edgar Renteria went 4-for-5, including a double and two runs scored, to help support starter Matt Morris, who pitched six strong innings, to lift the Cardinals to a 7-2 victory over the Reds before a crowd of 31,961 at Great American Ball Park.

Third baseman Scott Rolen, who was nearly removed from the game due to illness, belted a two-run home run in the seventh inning to cap the scoring. Morris, who escaped a bases-loaded nobody-out jam in the sixth inning by allowing only one run, broke an 0-for-28 skid at the plate with a RBI single in the sixth inning.

Morris also factored in the most spectacular play of the night in the third inning when Reds second baseman D'Angelo Jimenez grounded wide of first. The ball caromed off Pujols' glove and to Tony Womack who fielded and threw in one motion to the waiting Morris for the out.

"I hauled butt to first, and I looked down and the ball was there," Morris said. "That's the thing about this team. I almost gave up on it."

The Cards and Reds each had 11 hits, but St. Louis was able to get their knocks when they counted most.

"The game was misleading," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "We ended up with some clutch pitching and clutch hitting with men in scoring position."

The Cardinals' victory pushed their lead to 8 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Reds in the NL Central Division standings. St. Louis is 6-1 against Cincinnati this season.

The Reds got to Morris early. Ryan Freel extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games with a single to center to lead off the bottom of the first inning. Larkin followed with a tapper back to the mound. Morris fielded the ball cleanly, but his throw sailed over Pujols' head, allowing Freel to score for a 1-0 Reds lead.

"Coming back from vacation, I didn't have a good grip on the ball," Morris said. "I was thinking back to my shortstop days [and] it kind of sailed on me."

Reds starter Jesus Sanchez limited the Cardinals to only two baserunners in the first three innings. The Cardinals, however, responded with four runs in the fourth.

Pujols lined a 3-0 pitch from Sanchez over the left-field wall for a two-run home run, giving the Cardinals their first lead, 2-1. Pujols would understandably have the green light on 3-0, but La Russa says there's no reason to assume he's hacking.

"Albert shows great patience," La Russa said. "He's had that 3-0 swing sign before and taken a walk. He doesn't just swing at anything."

Reggie Sanders walked with one out and then moved to third on a ground out. So Taguchi bunted perfectly down the third-base line for an infield hit scoring Sanders. Mike Matheny followed with a double to the wall in right-center field as Taguchi raced around to score from first to give the Cardinals a commanding 4-1 lead.

"Taguchi is a sound, fundamental player," La Russa said. "He can do so much."

Sanchez (0-2) pitched four innings for Cincinnati, allowing four earned runs on five hits, including Pujols' homer. He walked two and struck out two in his second defeat of the season.

Morris atoned for his first-inning error with a two-out RBI single to score Edmonds with the Cardinals' fifth run in the sixth inning. It was Morris' first hit since April 21.

The Reds missed a golden opportunity against Morris in the sixth inning. Adam Dunn, Jimenez and Wily Mo Pena began the inning with consecutive singles to load the bases with nobody out. Jimenez would score on a fielder's choice, but Morris fanned pinch-hitter Javier Valentin to end the inning with the Cardinals still ahead, 5-2.

"I was worried about a much bigger inning," La Russa said. "That was huge to respond the way he did."

"My problem all year has been getting into jams and getting the ball up," Morris said. "It's tough to get out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam. I focused pitch-by-pitch and was able to get some ground balls."

Morris (10-6) allowed only one earned run on eight hits in six innings. He had just one walk and struck out four to earn his 10th win of the year.

"He had a cutter tonight -- at least I think it was a cutter, it could've been a slider -- that was absolutely incredible," Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said. "I know he made me look awkward out there a couple of times."

Rolen's 19th home run of the season, a two-run blast with one out in the seventh inning, increased the Cardinals' lead to 7-2. Just another day at the office for the Cards' All-Star third baseman? Hardly, says La Russa.

"Between the trainer and the manager, we were trying to convince Rolen to get out of the game," he said. "He was feeling terrible. He caught something the past couple of days. [But] he hung in there, played nine, and got a big hit."

Renteria nearly collected his career-high fifth hit, but his hard line drive in the ninth inning was snared by Jimenez.

"He has [no] hitter's luck," La Russa said. "Some balls fell today."

When asked what he liked most about his club, aside from their NL-best 55-33 record, La Russa said his guys take it day-by-day. It's a quality that could prove to be invaluable for the Cardinals in the stretch run.

"We don't pay attention to yesterday's win," La Russa said. "That's what I like the best about this team. We're the same every night. We play nine [innings] hard."

Jeff Wallner is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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