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10/05/06 9:56 PM ET

Pujols is man in middle of Cards' attack

MVP candidate drives in winning run for second straight game

SAN DIEGO -- The one thing the Padres didn't want in this National League Division Series and what the Cardinals were counting on was Albert Pujols coming up big.

It happened in Game 1 on Tuesday and happened again on Thursday in the Cardinals' 2-0, Game 2 victory in the best-of-five series. And now the Cards are on the verge of getting back to the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row and fifth time in the last seven years.

Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday at Busch Stadium.

"Like always, we're going to go out there, try not to think, and play one game at a time," Pujols said. "Whatever happens, we're back home. We hopefully finish over there. We have a day off [Friday]. We're going to come back Saturday and just jump right on it. But anything can happen."

Pujols, the reigning NL Most Valuable Player and a top candidate again this year, has dominated the fourth inning of both games. On Tuesday, it was a two-run homer off Jake Peavy, coming just five pitches after catcher Mike Piazza got caught up in the net behind the plate chasing a foul pop.

On Thursday, Pujols' single to left drove in Preston Wilson with the first run. And when Dave Roberts' throw to the plate came up short, Pujols was caught in a rundown between first and second. Second baseman Todd Walker took the relay and tossed to first. Shortstop Geoff Blum was late covering second base and Pujols slid in safely.

Two batters later, Pujols scored on Jim Edmonds' infield single.

The Cardinals have scored seven runs in the series and Pujols has either scored or knocked in five of them.

"Like I told you guys the other day, when I come to the park, I just think about what I can do to help my team win, hopefully get a good pitch and put my best swing on it," Pujols said. "In that situation today, I just wanted to hit a ground ball to second base and get the guy over because runs are really important in this game.

"I just got lucky on that rundown that it went our way. I thought, 'As soon as he throws to second, I'm done.' But I wasn't going to give up."

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The fact that left-hander David Wells pitched to Pujols at all with none out and a runner on second was a matter of conjecture on Thursday.

"I'm not surprised that they would pitch to him in that situation because we have great hitters behind him," said Cards second baseman Ronnie Belliard. "You have to pitch to him because [Scott] Rolen can come up behind him and hit a homer or a double, and after that there is Edmonds and [Juan] Encarnacion. All those guys can put the ball in play."

Pujols, who has been beating the Padres like a drum the last two weeks, also won a key regular-season game at St. Louis during the last week of the season, when manager Bruce Bochy pitched to him with runners on first and second in the eighth inning, and Pujols hit a three-run homer that won the game.

On Thursday, Wells got two quick strikes on Pujols and narrowly missed a called third strike on a pitch that might have shaved the outside corner of the plate. Big Albert then did his usual damage.

Bochy said it might be high time to start walking Pujols in those situations.

"I'm going to have to start thinking about it," Bochy said. "I had a guy out there who can locate the ball as well as anybody. He made some great pitches and got ahead in the count. Pujols just got a ball up there a little bit that he could handle."

Said Wells: "I don't have a problem pitching to Albert. He's a great hitter, yeah, but you can get him out. I mean, I got him out in the first inning [with a double-play grounder], but the pitch I threw to him was a cutter in. It was off the plate and he drew his hands in and that's what happens. Good hitters will do that. But I don't feel I need to pitch around him in that situation with a base open."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.