Josh Willingham homered twice with a career-best six RBIs, including a grand slam in the third inning, helping the Marlins end an eight-game losing streak with an 11-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.
Florida led in the seventh and eighth inning before faltering in the first two games of a three-game series.
The Marlins prevailed after manager Fredi Gonzalez ordered players, threatening fines, not to show up before 6 p.m. EDT, two hours before game time. Gonzalez used it as a change of pace.
“Anytime you lose eight in a row, you tend to press,” Willingham said. “It was a good little breather, I think. It was a good call.”
Starting pitcher Rick Vandenhurk watched Oceans 13 in his hotel room, completing a trilogy. Willingham visited the Gateway Arch with his wife and father-in-law, although he was unaware that one of the trams has broken down twice this summer, last month stranding visitors for several hours.
“No way,” Willingham said. “That would not have been good.”
Pujols was 0-for-3 with a popup, lineout to center and groundout, and was lifted after the sixth. Pujols’ RBI streak also ended at seven games, during which he drove in eight runs, and left Busch Stadium without talking to reporters.
“He’s that good of a hitter. He’ll get plenty of streaks,” Gonzalez said.
VandenHurk (4-4) allowed a run on four hits in five innings and the Cardinals had a shaky night on defense, tying a season high with four errors. A fifth ball to the wall was misplayed by left fielder Chris Duncan but ruled a hit, helping set the table for Willingham’s second career grand slam—both this year.
Hanley Ramirez was 1-for-2 with two walks and two steals, becoming the first Florida player to have 40 stolen bases and 20 homers in a season.
The Cardinals (61-63) missed a chance to make it back to .500 for the first time since a 3-2 loss to the Pirates on April 14 left the defending World Series champions’ record at 6-6.
Rick Ankiel hit a third-inning sacrifice fly for St. Louis, which lost for only the third time in 11 games. He made one of the errors, misjudging a basket catch on Matt Treanor’s fly ball to right in the second. But he compensated with a strong throw in the seventh to catch Mike Jacobs going for a double, and also made a strong throw to keep VandenHurk at third on Miguel Cabrera’s fly ball in the third.
Willingham’s 20th homer, a mammoth drive estimated at 448 feet that cleared the left-field bleachers, came off a 3-2 pitch from Anthony Reyes (2-13) for the first runs of the game. None of the runs was earned after third baseman Scott Rolen booted VandenHurk’s grounder to open the inning, which included Duncan misjudging his proximity to the wall and whiffing on a leaping attempt on Dan Uggla’s drive off the wall, ruled a single to load the bases.
“If I’d have gotten back quicker and found the wall, it probably would have been an easier play,” Duncan said. “I tried to time it because I thought I was closer to the wall, and I misplayed it.”
Manager Tony La Russa didn’t absolve Reyes, who labored through 106 pitches.
“He wasn’t blame-free,” La Russa said. “He threw a lot of pitches for the amount of time he was out there.”
Pinch hitter Cody Ross’ three-run homer, also his 100th career hit, greeted Brad Thompson in the sixth and made it 7-1. Both benches were warned after Thompson hit the next batter, Ramirez. Willingham added a two-run homer in the ninth off Tyler Johnson.
St. Louis loaded the bases in the ninth, but managed only Juan Encarnacion’s two-run single.
A lingering hamstring injury that left Pujols’ right side numb for a time on Wednesday factored into his early exit. Pujols had homered in six of the previous seven games and became the only player in major league history to hit 30 homers in his first seven seasons, but never came close to a long ball in the series finale.
“You’ve got to do everything with Pujols. You’ve got to mix everything up,” VandenHurk said. “He’s a great hitter and you can’t put it twice anywhere because he’s going to hit it a mile.”
The homer streak matched the franchise record last done by Jim Edmonds from July 6-11, 2004.
Willingham’s grand slam gives the Marlins four 20-homer players for the second straight season. They’re the first team in the majors to do it this season. … Cardinals INF Aaron Miles is due to rejoin the team on Friday after joining his wife in California for the birth of a son late Wednesday. He has missed the last two games. … The Marlins have homered in 23 of their last 25 games. … Willingham has three career multihomer games.