Cardinals 9, Rockies 3
DENVER (AP)—Success in hitting is mostly determined by average, homers and RBIs. Pitching, to a large degree, is about wins. And the St. Louis Cardinals have a lot of them.
Albert Pujols hit his 46th homer to move within one of the major league lead and Jason Marquis pitched seven strong innings to give St. Louis its fourth 15-game winner, helping the Cardinals win their fifth straight with a 9-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday.
A strong rotation helped the Cardinals win their fourth NL Central title in five years and has them 6 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball.
Marquis was considered at least the fourth-best pitcher on St. Louis’ staff after winning a combined 14 games his previous three seasons, but proved he belongs with his better-known teammates.
The right-hander allowed three runs—two earned and six in seven innings against the Rockies, joining Jeff Suppan (16), Chris Carpenter (15) and Matt Morris (15) to give St. Louis four 15-game winners for the first time in 60 years.
“In 100 games, there hasn’t been any part of the club that hasn’t done something special to describe it,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “The starting rotation, that (15 wins) would be one way to do it.”
Marquis (15-6) threw his first pitch of the game to the backstop, but didn’t allow a baserunner until Aaron Miles reached on shortstop Hector Luna’s throwing error at shortstop to lead off the fourth inning. Todd Helton followed one batter later with his 32nd homer, a two-run shot halfway up the second deck in right that cut the Cardinals’ lead to 5-2.
Marquis also worked out of a couple of jams.
The Rockies got a run in the seventh on Miles’ RBI single to left and had the bases loaded, but Marquis got Helton to pop out to end the inning.
“I didn’t try to do anything different than what I did all year,” Marquis said. “I’m a sinkerball pitcher and that’s what I just try to stick with.”
He got plenty of help.
Pujols was 4-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs, and Luna tied a career high with four of St. Louis’ 16 hits. The Cardinals sealed it in the ninth by adding four runs off Brian Fuentes on Pujols’ RBI double, run-scoring singles by Roger Cedeno and John Mabry, and a wild pitch.
Cal Eldred pitched two innings for his first save of the season. Colorado had eight hits, two each by Helton and Miles.
The Cardinals have the best record in baseball at 103-52 and need three wins in the final week to set a team record for victories.
“There is a reason why they’ve won all those games,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said.
There’s also a reason Colorado has lost 88 games: playing poorly at home.
The Rockies finished 38-43 at home, their second losing season at Coors Field. It was Colorado’s second-worst home record in 12 years of existence behind a 25-32 mark during the strike-shortened season of 1994.
“We just didn’t play very good baseball at home over the long course,” Hurdle said. “You have to play better to win, you have to play more consistent to win.”
Consistency was something that hurt Chris Gissell (0-1) in his first major league start. He opened the game with seven strikeouts in the first three innings, but gave up four runs and seven hits in that span.
Gissell didn’t come out for the fifth after giving up five runs and nine hits.
“There were a few fastballs that normally I would have had better command with—I would normally have gotten a strike with them,” Gissell said. “My offspeed stuff was there, just a few fastballs is where I had trouble.”
One was to Pujols in the first inning.
After Tony Womack led off the game with a single, Gissell left a fastball up in the zone to Pujols. Big mistake. One of the leading candidates for NL MVP launched the ball 456 feet to left center for a two-run homer that moved him within one of Los Angeles’ Adrian Beltre.
In case that wasn’t enough, Pujols followed Luna’s RBI single in the third inning with an RBI single in the fourth to put the Cardinals 5-0. It was the 500th RBI for Pujols, who joined Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio as the only players to have that many their first four seasons.
“That’s great. If I could stay healthy, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more,” Pujols said.
St. Louis RF Larry Walker had his first hit against his former team in the seventh, a single up the middle off Adam Bernero. Walker was 1-for-8 in his first two games back in Denver since being traded by the Rockies on Aug. 6. … Helton has 155 career homers at Coors Field, passing Walker for most all-time. … St. Louis was 5-1 against Colorado this season. … The last time St. Louis had four 15-game winners in one season was 1944, when Mort Cooper had 22, Ted Wilks 17, Max Lanier 17 and Harry Brecheen had 16.