St. Louis (61-51) at Pittsburgh (45-65)

Thunder in the Vicinity Currently: Pittsburgh, PA
Temp: 79° F
  • Game info: 1:35 pm EDT Sun Aug 9, 2009
  • TV: KSDK, FSPI
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There are few pitchers Albert Pujols(notes) has struggled against in his remarkable nine-year career. There are also few pitchers he has hit harder than Zach Duke(notes).

Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals go for a sweep of their three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates when they face Duke on Sunday at PNC Park.

Pujols, who reached 100 RBIs for the ninth straight year with a three-run double in Saturday’s 5-3 victory, is batting .469 with three homers and three doubles lifetime against Duke—his second-highest average against any pitcher he has totaled at least 25 at-bats.

The slugger has gone 5 for 10 with two solo homers versus Duke this year, and Pujols is hitting .429 with three homers and 11 RBIs against the Pirates in 2009.

His nine-year streak with 100 RBIs trails only Hall of Famer Al Simmons, who reached the mark 11 straight years with the Philadelphia Athletics from 1924-34.

“It’s very special,” Pujols said. “It’s pretty amazing, but you can’t do it by yourself. It’s not easy to do it for one year, to do it for nine years in a row is special.”

It also helps to face the perennially struggling Pirates (45-65), regardless of venue. Pujols is a .368 hitter with 38 homers and 117 RBIs versus the Pirates, batting .380 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs in 67 games at PNC Park.

Behind Pujols and starter Joel Pineiro(notes) (9-9, 3.18 ERA), the NL Central-leading Cardinals (61-51) will try to complete their first series sweep of the Pirates since taking three games at Pittsburgh from Sept. 28-30, 2007.

Pineiro escaped without a loss Tuesday at New York, where he was reached for season highs of seven runs and 11 hits in five innings before St. Louis rallied for a 12-7, 10-inning victory.

The right-hander, 3-0 in his last six starts, lost to Pittsburgh on May 13 after yielding five runs and 11 hits in six innings of a 5-2 defeat.

Pittsburgh may need a strong outing from Duke (9-10, 3.45) since its bullpen has been tagged for 26 runs in 29 innings since dealing reliever Josh Grabow to the Chicago Cubs. Chris Bootcheck(notes) had a forgettable debut for the Pirates on Saturday, allowing one hit and three walks around one out to force home a run before Pujols’ game-breaking hit in the sixth.

Duke has enough of a challenge trying to keep Pujols in check, but the left-hander is also hoping for any type of offensive support since the Pirates have been shut out in his last two starts.

He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings of a 6-0 defeat to Arizona on Tuesday, just the third time Duke has allowed five or more earned runs.

Duke has gone 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in three starts versus the Cardinals this year, and his only blemish in his most recent outing May 12 was a solo homer by Pujols in eight innings of a 7-1 victory. He is 4-5 in 12 lifetime starts versus St. Louis.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Pineiro LAA vs. Z. Duke CWS
15-12 Record 11-16
3.49 ERA 4.06
105 K 106
27 BB 49
1.14 WHIP 1.31

Scoreboard

Sunday, Aug 9