The NL MVP had three hits and a walk and helped fuel a four-run first inning from the cleanup spot in the St. Louis Cardinals' 6-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Monday night.
"It's who plays, not where they hit," manager Tony La Russa said. "The lineup wasn't anything magical or special, it's how they played."
Kyle Lohse (1-3) became the final member of the rotation to win, a day after the Cardinals fell out of the NL Central lead for the first time since July 30, 2009. Jason Motte struck out pinch hitter Adam Dunn on a high fastball with two men in scoring position to end the seventh for St. Louis, which won for only the fourth time in 13 games.
"It wasn't where I wanted it to be," Motte said. "But it worked out."
Dunn missed his second start due to flu-like symptoms and manager Jim Riggleman was intent on not using him in the field.
"He was aggressive, but he went up out of the zone a little bit," Riggleman said.
The big first inning against Craig Stammen (1-2) came with Pujols batting fourth for the first time since May 30, 2003. Pujols switched places with Matt Holliday in La Russa's effort to get Holliday revved up, although Holliday's lone contribution was walking to start a two-out rally in the first.
The Cardinals followed with four straight hits, including Pujols' single to center and David Freese's two-run triple off the right-field wall, the first of two tough plays that Nationals right fielder Willie Harris couldn't quite handle. Harris smacked into the wall on Freese's drive just overhead and briefly had the ball in his glove after a long run on Ryan Ludwick's sinking liner for a double in the second.
Reliever Drew Storen, the 10th pick of the 2009 draft, debuted for Washington in the seventh and struck out Holliday on an inside fastball with two on to end the inning.
"I expected to have the jitters, but I was excited to get out there," Storen said. "Pretty surreal. I felt like I was under control."
Ian Desmond had his second career four-hit game for the Nationals, who have totaled eight runs during a four-game losing streak. They've lost seven in a row at 5-year-old Busch Stadium.
"We're not panicking," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're going to keep grinding it out. Tonight we were just unlucky a bit."
Lohse allowed an unearned run on six hits in six innings, half of the hits coming in a two-run fifth with Harris getting the lone RBI on a groundout. Second baseman Skip Schumaker's throwing error on Roger Bernadina's infield hit led to an unearned run.
Lohse entered with a 5.68 ERA and had lost his previous two starts, surrendering 14 runs in nine innings.
"I just got back to the basics. Command of the fastball and keeping it down," Lohse said. "I felt like I could won a couple other games, but that's the way it goes."
Yadier Molina had his second RBI of the game and Schumaker had a run-scoring single in the eighth off Nationals closer Matt Capps. Stammen, who gave up only two hits his last five innings, is 0-2 his last five starts.
"I kick myself for having a two-out walk," Stammen said. "When that happens you've got to face Albert, the best hitter in the league. I left a couple pitches up, a bloop here and broken bat there and they get four runs."
Ludwick made an outstanding defensive play in RF in the eighth, diving full-out to snare Ryan Zimmerman's drive near the line. ... Dunn missed his second straight start with flulike symptoms. ... The Nationals hadn't allowed a first-inning run the previous 12 games. ... Nationals batting coach Rick Eckstein was ejected in the fifth for arguing a called third strike from the dugout. "He was giving to Gerry pretty good," Riggleman said. ... Freese, a 27-year-old rookie, is batting .382 (13 for 33) with runners in scoring position.