Pujols goes deep twice in win
Righty Looper allows two runs in six innings for second win
ST. LOUIS -- Thousands of fans came to Busch Stadium sporting Albert Pujols jerseys Sunday afternoon, but perhaps no one is a bigger fan of the All-Star slugger than Cards starting pitcher Braden Looper.
After Looper gave up two runs in the first inning, he came back to the dugout and watched Pujols blast a three-run homer to give the Cards -- who all wore No. 42 jerseys honoring Jackie Robinson -- the lead right back. It was a lead Looper would hold onto the rest of the game en route to a 10-2 win over the Brewers in the series finale.
"I kind of felt like I wanted to say, 'Thank you for picking me up out there and getting the game back on our side,'" Looper said. "Albert's a huge part of our team, and it was great to see him get going today."
Coming into the game, Pujols had just one home run and two RBIs in the team's first 10 games. He more than doubled the RBI output, as he finished 2-5 with two home runs and drove in five runs.
"Obviously, what I have been doing the last six years has worked," Pujols said. "I come here like I'm batting .300 or .400. Even though I'm batting (.186), I'm here to work hard -- it's just my approach."
Pujols wasn't the only hitter who had a breakout game. Left fielder Chris Duncan, already off to a hot start, went 4-5 and had a 423-foot solo home run. Duncan's performance raised his average to .412 on the young season.
Duncan finished the mini two-game series 6-for-9 and caught the attention of Brewers manager Ned Yost.
"Last year, there were times when he would come up to the plate and you wouldn't worry about him too much," Yost said. "That hasn't been the case at all this year. He's starting to become a real threat."
Duncan hammered his home run in the fifth inning to give the team a 5-2 lead, and the Cards broke the game open in the next inning when they put three runs on the board.
After two walks and a single by Adam Kennedy, pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio came up with the bases loaded. Brewers starter Ben Sheets then nailed Spiezio with a pitch, scoring Preston Wilson and knocking Sheets out of the game. The next hitter, David Eckstein, hit a sacrifice fly to left field off reliever Matt Wise to score Kennedy.
Duncan came up next and singled to load the bases for Pujols. This time, Pujols didn't go deep, but his RBI groundout to first base scored Yadier Molina. Kennedy added an RBI single in the seventh -- his first of the season -- and Pujols connected on his second home run -- a 414-foot shot to left-center.
In all, the Cards, who came into the game batting .240 as a team, broke out for 13 hits and 10 runs. It's just the second time in 11 games this season the team scored more than four runs in a game. They had scored seven runs total in their previous four home games.
"We definitely caught some breaks today," Wilson said. "We had a few cheap hits here and there, but you need that to get going. When guys start getting walks and getting on base, good things happen."
Looper, still making the adjustment from a reliever to a starter, didn't run into too many problems after the first inning. The only real trouble he got into was in the fifth, when J.J Hardy lined a shot right back to him for a single. He then walked Prince Fielder on four pitches to put two runners on with two outs.
Bill Hall then came up and after Looper fired a strike, Molina popped out of his catcher's stance and made a snap-throw down to Pujols at first base. Pujols tagged Fielder and got Looper out of the inning.
"That was a huge play at the time," manager Tony La Russa said. "He [Molina] is such a weapon. I do believe that had real big significance in the final score that will probably get lost in the shuffle."
Looper benefited from solid defense all game. Each of the outfielders made a nice catch, including Duncan -- who snagged a deep fly ball by Sheets in the second inning.
"That's sort of going to be my M.O. all season," Looper said. "I'm going to need my defense. I'm not going to strike out a lot of guys.
"Today was a learning experience. It's probably not the best I've felt -- control-wise, stuff-wise. I really had to work with Yadi and mix it up. You're not always going to have your best stuff, but you have to get through it."
Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.