Pujols' two-run double sparks Cardinals' rare home win

Cardinals 5, Reds 2

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Braden Looper went back to being a set-up man for the Cardinals.

The reliever turned starter pitched his best game of the season, setting the table for Albert Pujols' tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and St. Louis beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-2 on Wednesday night.

It was only the second win in nine home games for the Cardinals, the first World Series winners to start the following season 1-7 at home.

Looper, who is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA, and three relievers combined on a five-hitter.

"It was probably some of the best control for the majority of the game that I've had," he said. "I just made one really bad pitch to the wrong guy. Luckily it didn't hurt us too bad."

Looper allowed one run on three hits in seven innings in his fifth career start, all of them lasting at least six innings, since the Cardinals plugged the former closer and set-up man into the rotation.

"That's another outstanding outing for him," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's given us a terrific lift."

Josh Hamilton hit his sixth home run and drove in his 12th run, both tops among NL rookies, for the Reds. Hamilton homered five times in his first 29 at-bats and waited 17 more at-bats for his sixth long ball.

The Reds wasted another strong start by Bronson Arroyo, who gave up one run on five hits in seven innings. Arroyo has worked seven or more innings in four of his last five starts, but the Reds are 0-5 with him on the mound while scoring 11 runs.

"It's just the way it is, I guess," Arroyo said. "I felt I threw the ball well. It's always frustrating and disappointing when you don't win the ballgame."

David Eckstein was hitless in three at-bats and hadn't gotten the ball out of the infield before leading off the eighth with a bloop single against Kirk Saarloos (0-2). Chris Duncan walked on a full count and Pujols' liner to the gap in right-center scored both runners and made it 3-1.

"A lot of hitters try to be a hero and try to create something big," Pujols said. "I try to make it simple, go back to my basics and just get the ball deep."

Pujols has struggled in the early going, batting .234, but has 14 RBIs.

"Obviously it doesn't matter how I'm swinging or what my batting average looks like, when it comes to that situation I'm a different person," Pujols said. "I know sooner or later I'm going to get a big opportunity."

A fourth run scored on shortstop Alex Gonzalez's wild throw to first on Preston Wilson's one-out grounder and Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly off Victor Santos gave the Cardinals a 5-1 lead.

Jim Edmonds had an RBI single in the fourth for the Cardinals, who had been outscored 44-20 during their first eight home games with 10 of their runs coming in the lone victory. They scuffled for offense in this game, too, mustering seven hits.

Randy Flores (1-0), St. Louis' third pitcher, struck out Hamilton and Brandon Phillips to end the eighth and then allowed an RBI single to Scott Hatteberg in the ninth. Jason Isringhausen came on to get the last out for his fifth save in six chances.

The Cardinals scored first for only the fifth time in 20 games, taking the lead in the fourth on Scott Rolen's leadoff double and Edmonds' RBI single.

Looper didn't allow a hit, permitting only two walks, until Gonzalez singled with one out in the fifth. He had retired 11 of 12 batters before Hamilton hit his first pitch of the sixth over the center-field wall.

Saarloos allowed two hits and two walks to start the eighth. In his last two outings, he has allowed six runs in one-third of an inning.

"[I] stunk pretty much," Saarloos said. "I couldn't get anyone out. A bad effort for me."

Game notes
Gonzalez is 6-for-9 the last two games, emerging from a 3-for-22 slump. ... Duncan singled twice, walked and lined out and is batting .448 (13-for-29) at home. ... Skip Schumaker is 2-for-14 as a pinch-hitter for the Cardinals after grounding out to end the seventh. ... The Reds' bullpen has five of the team's 11 losses.