ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Injuries to four regulars have eroded Albert Pujols' protection in the batting order for much of the season and forced the St. Louis Cardinals' star to perhaps chase more pitches than usual.
He capitalized on his best chance on Monday, hitting a hanging slider from Roberto Novoa for a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning of a 6-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs.Pujols is among the NL leaders with 103 RBI but had driven in only one run in his previous seven games. Although he'd been 9-for-25 in that span, this was his first homer in 10 games."Guys like Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols and other guys at the top, Miguel Cabrera, nobody throws the ball down the middle to them," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "So they have to work hard to get everything, and they deserve all the credit."Without Scott Rolen and Reggie Sanders, the Cardinals have used the likes of Yadier Molina in the cleanup spot. Jim Edmonds has hit there in 74 games but has had a subpar year with 25 homers and 78 RBI.Still, Pujols has a .336 average that's second in the league and a major league-leading 113 runs scored. He doesn't think he's expanded his strike zone."I've had Jimmy for the last five years hitting behind me, and I know he's going to click on and drive me in, so there's no need for me to put pressure on myself or chase a ball out of the strike zone," Pujols said. "Believe me he's getting hot, so watch out."Jeff Suppan didn't allow any earned runs in six innings, and five relievers finished as St. Louis stopped the Cubs' three-game winning streak.With the score 2-all in the eighth, Chicago loaded the bases on a hit batter and two walks before Ray King (4-2) retired Todd Walker on an inning-ending flyout.Novoa (3-5) walked David Eckstein leading off the bottom half, and Abraham Nunez reached on an infield hit. Pujols followed with his 36th homer, his first since Aug. 25."We hung a slider and Albert doesn't miss sliders too much," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He doesn't miss pitches up in the zone."Will Ohman relieved, and Edmonds connected on his second pitch for his 25th homer. Both homers landed in the Cubs' bullpen beyond the left field wall.Pujols also singled and walked and is 9-for-37 against the Cubs this year with four homers and eight RBI.Starting a 10-game homestand after a 9-4 trip, St. Louis is 42-18 against the NL Central although just 4-6 against the Cubs.Suppan hasn't allowed an earned run in 11 innings his last two outings. Jason Isringhausen forced in a run in the ninth with a bases-loaded walk to Jerry Hairston Jr., and Julian Tavarez allowed pinch-hitter Jose Macias' sacrifice fly before getting Lee to hit a game-ending double-play grounder for his fourth save. Lee hit the ball up the middle but second baseman Mark Grudzielanek was perfectly positioned.Cubs starter Mark Prior allowed two runs and five hits in six innings with six strikeouts and two walks.St. Louis took a 2-0 lead in the fifth. Nunez had an RBI single on a one-hop grounder that shortstop Ronny Cedeno could not handle, and Prior threw a run-scoring wild pitch. Catcher Henry Blanco threw wildly to the plate and Nunez, who began the play on second, also tried to score. But Cedeno retrieved the ball and threw to the plate, where Prior tagged out Blanco.Nunez's two-out fielding error at third on Lee's slow roller set up Jeromy Burnitz's two-run single in the sixth. Burnitz has 18 RBI in his last 17 games.
Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz made a nice diving catch on Einar Diaz's pop-up bunt down the third base line in the seventh. ... Eckstein had two hits and scored twice and is 20-for-47 (.426) during a 10-game hitting streak. ... Attendance of 49,646 was the Cardinals' 36th sellout of the season and the 28th straight of 40,000 or more. ... The save was Tavarez's first since June 3 at Houston.