Cardinals 6, Pirates 3
Children with Down Syndrome circled the field in pre-game ceremonies, and then stood with players at their positions during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” More than a few asked him to hit a home run for them.
He then homered in his first three at-bats, honoring Isabella Pujols and all special needs children in a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
“It’s always good to do something special for those kids, but I don’t try to put pressure on myself,” Pujols said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re there or not. I’m just going to try the best I can to help my team to win.”
Since Pujols became spokesman for the “buddy walk” games in 2002, he’s 9-for-20 with five homers, nine RBIs and seven runs scored while the Cardinals have gone 4-1.
“If that’s the case,” he said, “we need to bring those kids more often.”
Pirates pitcher Ian Snell said he had to laugh after Pujols’ third straight home run off him. He also said he felt like giving last year’s NL MVP a high-five.
“I mean, that’s unreal,” Snell said. “That’s like Superman playing baseball.”
Pujols connected with the bases empty in the first, and hit two-run drives in the third and fifth, all off Snell (12-9). He’s 4-for-6 with four homers and seven RBIs against Snell, and with 42 homers reached the 40-mark for the fourth straight season. It was his third three-homer game, his second of the season.
Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard homered in his first three at-bats in a doubleheader opener against Atlanta. It was the first time two players homered three times on the same day since Pujols and Cleveland’s Travis Hafner did it on July 20, 2004. It was the first time a pair did it in the first three plate appearances since Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench and Atlanta’s Orlando Cepeda—a pair of Hall of Famers—on July 26, 1970.
Pujols missed a bid for a fourth homer in the seventh with a drive to left off Brian Rogers that was caught by Jason Bay just shy of the warning track, protesting afterward that he never tries for the long ball.
“Was I trying to hit the first one, the second one, the third one?” Pujols said. “No, I just try to have good at-bats. Like I say, it’s not about me, it’s about my team.”
Many fans stood during the at-bat and gave Pujols an ovation as he trotted back to the dugout. Prodded by teammates, Pujols rewarded a sellout crowd with curtain calls after his second and third homers.
“He’s such a hungry hitter, he’s always got a chance,” manager Tony La Russa said. “He just got under it a little bit against a pitcher he’s never seen before.”
Pujols, who also homered three times against Cincinnati on April 16, entered in an 8-for-38 slump with only two-extra base hits in 10 games since homering twice and driving in a career-best seven runs on Aug. 22 at New York. He has been hampered somewhat by elbow soreness, although he has not missed any games.
Pujols scored his 100th run on the third homer, giving him 100 or more in each of his six seasons. He’s the only player in major league history to hit 30 homers, score 100 runs and bat .300 in his first five seasons, and he is batting .321 this year.
The previous player to hit three homers off the Pirates was Vinny Castilla of the Astros, on July 28, 2001, in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
Anthony Reyes (5-6), retooled from a brief demotion to the minors, struck out the side in the first, fanned a career-high nine and allowed four hits in 6 1-3 scoreless innings. A 24-year-old rookie, he was optioned to Triple-A Memphis after giving up five runs in 3 1-3 innings against Cincinnati on Aug. 16. He returned to emphasizing his fastball in the minors, striking out 17 in 13 scoreless innings over two starts, and is taking injured Mark Mulder’s spot in the rotation.
“He’s pitched really well in several of his starts, but this was a big one,” La Russa said. “This is September now, the end is in sight.”
St. Louis completed a 7-2 homestand by taking two of three from the Pirates, who swept them earlier this month in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals won the season series 9-6.
Snell, who had won three of his previous four starts, lasted five innings. He gave up five runs ands seven hits with seven strikeouts in five innings. He has allowed 25 homers and joked that Pujols’ third homer “was going to hit the Arch.”
“This is not going to rattle my confidence for the rest of the year,” Snell said. “But today was a struggle with one guy and it cost me big-time.”
An unusual fielding play helped Reyes out of trouble in the fifth. Snell’s grounder off the third-base bag with two outs deflected high into the air before Scott Rolen snagged it in time to make a diving tag on Doumit, running from second. … Bay was 2-for-4 with a strikeout after going 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts in the first two games. … Cardinals starters have allowed four runs over 29 1-3 innings the last four games.