Cardinals-Pirates: Albert Pujols Stops Bleeding with Long Ball

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IMay 7, 2009

Apparently MLB managers didn't get the memo on Albert Pujols. He continues to torch pitchers left and right as he added to his stats on Wednesday when the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2, stopping a three-game losing skid.

One stat that should immediately be noticed is his home runs. Once again, he cranked a round-tripper in the first inning of the contest, which seems to be his motto as of late. “Hit 'em early, hit 'em often.”

The next stat after that should be how many strikeouts he's produced: nine. That's right. "El Hombre" has more homers than strikeouts.

Seeing Pujols become the best five-tool player in the game has been a satisfying sight, to say the least.

As is the norm with power hitters, they are usually punched out more often because of their tendency to try to swing for the fences in every at-bat. Cases in point: Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard.

Known "fondly" as strikeout kings, these sluggers continually are in the top five in strikeouts every year—but not Albert Pujols. He doesn't consider himself a power hitter, as he finished the night going 4-for-4 with two runs scored. The perfect night for him raised his batting average back to .364.

As much as Pujols contributed towards the win, so did platoon outfielder Chris Duncan.

Hitting a two-run triple off Pirates starter Zach Duke in the fourth inning, he showcased a hint of speed that has long been absent from the slugger. It was his first career triple against any left-handed pitcher.

Duncan, who has been benched several times against lefties, had been getting more playing time after the gut-wrenching crash fellow outfielder Rick Ankiel suffered several days ago.

Ankiel turned out to be fine but has been left out for precautionary reasons.

Manager Tony La Russa knew Duncan could hit lefties, but knew that it was because of his health.

"It's a matter of him being healthy like he was when he first got here," said La Russa. "When he first got here, he used to hit home runs against left-handers. He hasn't been healthy for two years. What he did in '06 and the first half of '07, that's what he's capable of doing."

With the triple, Duncan raised his average to .281 and his slugging percentage to .500 against left-handed pitching. Not great, but it's a great improvement from his last two years at the plate.

He attributed his recent success against southpaws to his confidence while at bat.

"I think I just have more confidence from playing against them more and having some success early on," said Duncan. "I think it's given me more confidence. I don't, as much, think to myself, 'Oh no, it's a lefty.' It's just, hey, I'm hitting, I'm taking an at-bat. In my mind it's irrelevant whether he's left-handed or right-handed. Whereas, before, I might really, go, 'Oh no, it's a left-hander.'"

As the offense for St. Louis was clicking, the starting pitching took a bit of a rough start.

Recent call-up Mitchell Boggs took the mound and pitched an effective game, but he needed 85 pitches to complete four-and-a-third innings of work. Fewer than half of those were called for strikes, which suggests a bit of a control issue for Boggs.

He held the Pirates to only two runs while striking out four, but was replaced by Trever Miller while only needing two more outs to be credited for the win.

Maybe La Russa pulled the trigger too early on Boggs, but the young pitcher had only himself to blame for the runs scored and for not locating his pitches. Nate McLouth's RBI double in the fifth inning didn't help the situation.

The rest of the bullpen for the Cardinals was lights out as Kyle McClellan, Dennys Reyes, Jason Motte, and Ryan Franklin all combined to give up only one hit and one walk.

The bullpen shutdown is something the Cardinals need if they have any hopes of competing in the postseason.

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