Wells' arm, big bats lift Cardinals
Righty tosses seven shutout innings; Pujols hits first homer
HOUSTON -- Kip Wells allowed one hit in seven innings and Albert Pujols hit his first home run of the season as the Cardinals topped the Astros, 10-1, on Sunday in the rubber game of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Wells (1-1) struck out seven, walked one and retired the last 16 Astros in order. The right-hander allowed just three baserunners, all in the second inning, on a bloop single by Mark Loretta, a walk to Carlos Lee and a hit batsman in Chris Burke.
"Kip Wells gave us the start we needed, because we really didn't do a lot against [Houston starter Jason] Jennings," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "Kip was just outstanding and once he got the lead, I think he got tougher and tougher."
Wells outdueled Jennings, his former Baylor University teammate, in convincing fashion. It was the least amount of hits Wells had allowed in any start that lasted at least seven innings. Wells lowered his ERA to 1.38 and has held opposing hitters to a .143 (6-for-42) batting average.
Foot and arm injuries limited Wells to just nine games last year, but judging from his performance so far, the 29-year-old is back.
"I felt like I've been relatively right for basically since I came back last year," Wells said. "Obviously, experience-wise and repetition-wise, you need those outings, but for the most part for me, it's not overthrowing, it's staying in the strike zone and staying in a rhythm. I got the quick outs and the quick innings, and those are what give you a chance to pitch deep into games."
Wells was simply dominating, something he hadn't been since the rash of injuries that led to a 10-23 record during 2005-06.
"He's dominated against us, he always impressed us with the Pirates," La Russa said. "He's got excellent ability, he's just in a good position now with his experience to start to reach his potential."
The Astros did not get a runner as far as third base when Wells was in the game, and only once did a baserunner make it as far as second base while the Houston native was on the mound.
"[The] first couple of innings I was putting a little more effort than I did when the game progressed," Wells said. "[Pitching coach Dave] Dunc[an], observing from the side told me to back off just a little bit. It gave me a little better command, a little better finesse. For me, that's something I constantly need to be aware of, not trying too hard [and catcher Yadier Molina] called a good game."
Pujols came to the plate in the third hitting .056 (1-for-18), but he found the 1-1 pitch from Jennings (0-1) to his liking and crushed it an estimated 410 feet to left-center to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead. Pujols' shot scored Chris Duncan, who had reached via a one-out walk.
"I think it was a changeup, something like that, something soft," Pujols said of the homer. "[Ask] me next time, I'll tell you. Right now, I don't even know what I'm hitting, but I think that was a changeup."
Pujols wasn't the only Cardinal shaking off a slump. The 10 runs was three more than the team had scored in the previous six games combined.
"I said we were going to get going, obviously that's what we did today," Pujols said. "Everybody contributed, Yaddy got a big hit and then we got two-out hits. Everybody contributed today, and then to win the series, that's what our goal is, to come out and try to win the series no matter what happens."
Jim Edmonds scored from third on a wild pitch by Jennings to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the second. Edmonds singled with one out before advancing to third on a base hit by Preston Wilson and an intentional walk to Adam Kennedy.
The Cardinals added two runs in the eighth on RBI singles by Scott Rolen and Molina. In the ninth, Rolen drove in three more with a double, and Molina collected a two-run double.
"Albert had a couple of contributions and rallies, Scott Rolen had a couple of big hits," La Russa said. "[The] first five, six innings we weren't stinging it all over the place, [but we] did a good job of finishing it off."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.