Cardinals 3, Pirates 0

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—The St. Louis Cardinals are looking for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher while Chris Carpenter sits out with an elbow problem. Braden Looper, a career reliever until this season, may be exactly what they need.

Albert Pujols doubled and scored the only run Looper needed in his first career victory as a starter, and the Cardinals spoiled the Pirates’ home opener with a 3-0 victory Monday.

Pinch-hitter Preston Wilson added a two-run double in the eighth off Damaso Marte after Pirates starter Ian Snell (0-1) limited St. Louis to one run over seven innings. But that was one run too many as Looper held the Pirates to two hits over seven innings in only his second start in 574 career appearances.

Looper pitched five shutout innings in his first start, against the Mets in a 10-0 loss Wednesday, but visibly tired while allowing three runs in the sixth. That didn’t happen this time as Looper gave up only Chris Duffy’s double in the third and Jason Bay’s single in the fourth.

“He had a good cut fastball and a changeup—guys were coming back saying, `What was that?”’ Bay said.

Looper (1-1) experienced a few rough moments, walking three, hitting a batter and committing a balk, but the right-hander tightened up with runners on base—exactly the kind of start manager Tony La Russa wanted.

“I’d be lying if I said it was normal,” Looper said of winning as a starter. “It’s a good feeling to be sitting on the bench after throwing seven innings.”

With Carpenter going on the disabled list Monday with arthritis and an impingement in his right elbow, the World Series champions don’t have a single starter in the rotation who was there at this time a year ago.

“He did so many good things, moving the ball around, showing a lot of different looks,” La Russa said. “You can’t give him enough credit. He’s really strong and stamina is going to be one of his plusses.”

Pujols certainly hopes it is.

“Hopefully he can keep doing it,” Pujols said. “But you make 26, 27 starts, your arm gets tired. Right now it’s early. Hopefully he can stay healthy, because it’s a tough role coming out from bullpen to be a starter.”

Pujols must have welcomed his return to Pittsburgh, where he has been the most successful opposing hitter since PNC Park opened in 2001. Pujols hit three homers the last time he opposed Snell, on Sept. 3, and he was 4-for-6 with four homers against him in his career.

Pujols began the season in a 1-for-17 slump, but homered among two hits Sunday during a 10-1 victory in Houston. He singled in the first Monday against Snell, only to be stranded, but doubled and scored on Scott Rolen’s RBI single in the fourth.

“Sometimes you can’t catch a break. Those two balls I hit today, probably last week they would have been right at somebody,” Pujols said. “I got off to a slow start, but I know with hard work and if I keep doing what I’m doing, it will come around.”

The Pirates didn’t bother pitching to Pujols in the eighth, intentionally walking him following David Eckstein’s single off John Wasdin. Wilson crossed up that strategy with his double off the center-field wall.

Ryan Franklin followed Looper with a scoreless eighth, and Jason Isringhausen—pitching in short sleeves on a cold day—finished the combined three-hitter with a perfect ninth. He has converted both of his save opportunities.

The gametime temperature was 37, four degrees colder than it was for the last Steelers home game on Dec. 24, so it wasn’t a surprise neither team did much offensively. The sellout crowd of 38,429 mostly shivered and cheered its loudest for a scoreboard mention of the NHL Penguins’ playoff appearance.

“All these games in the 30s, it’s starting to be normal,” Bay said. “It’s tough to feel comfortable up there when it’s cold and the wind is howling.”

Snell also was effective, giving up six hits and striking out three. His strikeouts were down from the 11 he had against Houston on April 3.

Notes

Rolen has five RBIs in his last two games. … Looper has a 1.60 ERA in 24 career games against Pittsburgh. … The Pirates have lost three of four since winning their first three games, in Houston. … The Cardinals have won three of four since dropping their first three. … The Pirates dropped their third consecutive home opener. They are 2-5 in home openers in PNC Park. … Cardinals INF Scott Spiezio sat out with what La Russa said might have been food poisoning. … Bay hit fifth for the first time this season. Last season, he hit fifth only once, and was the cleanup hitter 134 times. … Pujols is 6-for-9 against Snell. … The game was held up briefly in the second so the batter’s box could be relined. Pujols said it was obvious to him the box wasn’t deep enough.

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