Opening power: Pujols homers twice in win
Rasmus, Molina also go deep to help Cardinals top Reds
CINCINNATI -- The Cardinals asserted their authority on Monday for the first of what they hope will be 90 or more occasions this season. And they did so emphatically.
St. Louis hitters bashed four home runs, banged out 12 hits and drew four walks and set or tied a number of records and personal bests in an 11-6 Opening Day thumping of the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Albert Pujols homered twice, Colby Rasmus hit a long ball and made a spectacular catch and Yadier Molina hit his first career grand slam, as the 2010 season started on a winning note.
The outs were loud, and the hits were scorched. The Cardinals looked like a totally different offense than the one that went out meekly in a National League Division Series sweep against the Dodgers last October.
"That's our goal," said Matt Holliday, who singled and scored. "That's something that [hitting coach] Mark [McGwire] preaches, and it's something that we've all been talking about -- especially against [Aaron] Harang -- is hard line drives, try to hit the ball back through the middle. I think we did a pretty good job of hitting the ball hard against a really good pitcher."
The last time the Cardinals were seen playing games that mattered, they were an offensively futile team. A great deal has changed -- from the stage to the ballpark to the opponent -- since that NLDS. But the Redbirds have changed, too. They're an improved offensive club, one that can be dangerous at all eight everyday lineup spots.
David Freese replaced the third-base revolving door. Rasmus' development appears to be coming along at a rapid pace. And though the Cardinals had Holliday last October, they didn't have him on Opening Day. A team that won with starting pitching last season could have a different character in 2010.
These guys can rake, whoever their hitting coach may be.
"We're not going to try to make Mark look good," Pujols said. "We're going to try to do the best that we can to help our ballclub to win, and that's what we did. When we're able to do that, we make everybody look good."
Pujols went deep in his first at-bat of the season, hitting a laser-beam long ball 410 feet to left-center field.
"You make a mistake, he's right on it," Harang said. "You have to give him a good pitch, you have a good shot to get him out. He's the best hitter in the game."
Pujols added a two-run shot to right in the seventh, driving in Brendan Ryan and providing valuable insurance. It was the first multihomer game by a Cardinal on Opening Day since Pujols hit two in Philadelphia in 2006. Pujols has hit two or more home runs in a game 34 times in his Major League career.
The four homers were also an Opening Day record for St. Louis, and Pujols' four runs scored equaled a personal best.
"Any hitter can tell you," Pujols said, "when you drive the ball to the right, the ball outside, you hit it out of the park the other way, and the ball inside, you pull it down the line, it tells you you're trusting your hands. And that's something that I always try to do -- make sure I trust myself and what I'm capable of doing."
Rasmus drove in the second St. Louis run with a solo homer of his own. The second-year outfielder hit a majestic shot that kept carrying to right field, landing 413 feet from home plate to make it 2-0 in the fourth. Freese added an RBI single for the Cardinals, and Pujols scored on an error by Harang.
Molina's grand slam during St. Louis' five-run ninth was the third of its kind hit on Opening Day by a Cardinal. The backstop joins McGwire and Scott Rolen -- meaning that all three players to accomplish the feat were in the ballpark on Monday.
Starter Chris Carpenter has been sharper, but he was plenty good enough to pick up the victory. He allowed two runs on five hits over six innings, striking out three without a walk. He did permit solo homers to Joey Votto and Rolen in a shaky fourth inning and warning-track outs to Ramon Hernandez in the fourth and Rolen in the sixth.
"I spun a cutter in there to Votto, right there where he likes to hit it," Carpenter said. "I couldn't have put it any better for him. Scott, I got the ball up and over the middle of the plate, and he put a good swing on it. But I was able to get back under control and make some good pitches."
It was Rolen's near-homer that was the highlight of the game. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the former Cardinal lined a deep drive to center field. Rasmus ranged to the wall, timed his leap perfectly and plucked the ball from over the fence just to the left of center field.
The Reds didn't go without a fight, even after that. Three St. Louis relievers allowed four runs, and it wasn't until Molina's grand slam in the ninth that the game was really salted away. Of course, on days like this, the bullpen is but a blip. The Cardinals not only started scoring, they kept scoring.
"I liked it, because Cincinnati was so competitive," manager Tony La Russa said. "They kept coming at us. It wasn't like we were having to take at-bats where, who cares. Guys were trying to make something happen, and we did make something happen. It was a good game that way."
The Cardinals' Opening Day win was their first since 2006.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.