Cardinals 4, Cubs 1

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—Albert Pujols beat the Chicago Cubs for the second consecutive game, this time with a grounder that found a hole rather than the long ball.

His two-run single with the bases loaded snapped a fifth-inning tie, helping the St. Louis Cardinals grind out a 4-1 victory on Saturday.

Pujols has six RBIs in the first two games of the series, including a two-run homer for his 1,000th career hit on Friday. This time the key was a two-out bouncer up the middle off Scott Williamson that gave the Cardinals, swept earlier this month in Chicago, a chance to sweep the Cubs at home on Sunday.

Pujols said he wasn’t confident against Williamson, who “has my number.”

“I don’t know what it is, I always have a tough time seeing the ball against him,” Pujols said. “I don’t think it was a bad pitch, it was just my approach to try to hit it back through the middle, and I’m glad it went through.”

The Cubs have lost two straight for the first time this season while totaling four runs without Derrek Lee, out at least two months with two broken bones above his right wrist. Todd Walker, who batted third in both games, singled and drew two walks Saturday before coming out in a double switch in the fifth.

“The loss of D-Lee is more mental than anything,” Walker said. “I don’t think there is an overreaction that we lost two without Derrek.”

Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, who is 7-for-15 with four homers and 10 RBIs against the Cardinals, flied out for the final out of the game as a pinch-hitter.

Sidney Ponson (2-0) worked through control problems for the second consecutive start, frustrating the Cubs by allowing one run on six hits and four walks in five innings. He was working on two extra days of rest for the second time this season due to days off and manager Tony La Russa’s desire to match Mark Mulder, who jumped ahead of him in the rotation on Friday, against the Pirates early next week.

“I was battling out there, I didn’t have nothing going,” Ponson said. “The fastball was all over the place and I couldn’t throw strikes. The defense and timely hitting bailed me out.”

Ponson benefited from an outstanding defensive play by third baseman Scott Rolen, who robbed Aramis Ramirez of a hit down the line with runners on first and third in the third, throwing him out on a close play to hold him to an RBI groundout.

“I wrote on my card: play of the game,” La Russa said. “If that ball gets by the third baseman, it’s a completely different game.”

Braden Looper threw two perfect innings and Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his fifth save on a day when the Cardinals made the most of four hits.

“It wasn’t like it was a bust-out offensive day,” La Russa said. “They pitched us well and we were able to do enough. Fortunately, we pitched well, too.”

A pair of two-out walks by Glendon Rusch (1-3) to eighth-place hitter So Taguchi and pinch-hitter John Rodriguez opened the door for the Cardinals’ three-run fifth. David Eckstein followed with an RBI single and Hector Luna walked on a full count to load the bases and chase Rusch.

“I gave them an opportunity to get in the game,” Rusch said. “I didn’t make them swing the bats. It’s frustrating.”

Pujols got just enough of a 2-1 pitch to bounce it out of the grasp of shortstop Ronny Cedeno, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. Pujols, robbed of extra bases on Jacque Jones’ catch at the right-field wall in the seventh, leads the major leagues with 26 RBIs and has set a franchise record with 11 home runs in April.

Yadier Molina’s RBI double off Williamson in the sixth made it 4-1.

The Cubs stranded two runners in the first and third. Ponson also benefited from two double plays.

“We had a lot of chances, but didn’t get it done,” Ramirez said. “And they did.”


Eckstein is 8-for-16 in his last four games. … The Cardinals have outscored the opposition 23-7 in the fifth inning. … Matt Murton is 2-for-17 against St. Louis pitching. … Ponson has faced the Cubs in two of his three starts. He also lasted five innings on April 8, allowing a three-run homer to Barrett. … A crowd of 41,424 gave the Cardinals eight straight sellouts in new Busch Stadium.

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