Cardinals-Cubs: Wainwright, Pujols "Lights Out" in Showdown Sweep

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Cardinals-Cubs: Wainwright, Pujols

Busch Stadium got a little darker yesterday, but in a good way.

St. Louis Cardinals team leaders Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols had huge contributions in sweeping their rivals, the Chicago Cubs, 3-1 on Thursday.

Both were lights out in their respective positions in the contest, however, slugger Albert Pujols took it to a literal sense.

Perhaps it was another indication of how much of a team-player personality the reigning N.L. MVP exudes, but the solo home run he blasted in the first inning to knock out the "I" in the infamous "Big Mac Land" sign in left field was amazing.

They say there is no "I" in team, not to mention there isn't one functioning in the sign either. For Pujols, he truly takes those words to heart because of how much he wants his team to succeed.

The silver slugger knew just how important it is to hold true to the old adage: "Hit 'em hard, hit 'em early."

"It's cool to do things like that," Pujols said. "But you know what? You take a home run no matter what. To get right on top like that, a jump right out of the gate, and take the lead early, it's big. We knew that we took two games from these guys, and when you score first like that, it kind of takes you back where, 'Here we go again, they're scoring first.' So you want to jump right on them and not give those guys the opportunity to feel comfortable."

The man has hit so many solo home runs this year that I made reference to T-Rex Pennebaker, the brash slugger from the movie "Mr. 3000," in one of my more recent articles.

The rest of the Cardinals' offense was provided by the young rising star Colby Rasmus' RBI single in the third and then by Brian Barden's solo homer in the fourth inning.

The best compliment for Pujols' offensive exploits was the shutdown pitching from Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. Pitching just one out short of a complete game, Wainwright was barely contested throughout the night.

Giving up only a single earned run on five hits coupled with seven strikeouts, it was a perfect compliment to Joel Pineiro's masterful outing just several nights before.

Wainwright knew that the Cubs offense could explode at any moment, but said he knew how to keep his team's momentum going to combat it.

"As a pitcher, if you're a good pitcher, you don't look at it like, 'Oh man, that other team is due,'" Wainwright said. "You look at it like, 'Man, our team is rolling. We're going to keep this going.' That's what separates the really good pitchers and the really good teams from the average pitchers and the average teams."

Combined with the triumphant return of Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals' starting rotation has allowed only two earned runs in 22 and two-third innings during this sweep of the Cubs.

According to STATS Inc., that's the fewest for the Cubs in a three-game series against the Cards since they had two in a series in 1988.

That's impressive to say the least.

The Cardinals have come back from being swept by the Milwaukee Brewers nearly a week ago to sweeping their biggest rival.

It seems as if the Redbirds are clicking on all cylinders.

With Carpenter back and still pitching at a high level, combined with Wainwright's confidence, it's a huge one-two punch against any team. If only the back end of the rotation could pick up the slack from shellings of Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse.

Despite the rough outings Wainwright had earlier in the year, the pitcher said he's still committed to battling through any obstacles that come about.

"My expectations were always there," Wainwright said. "But deep down, behind those expectations, earlier I knew I wasn't where I needed to be. So, yeah, I was hoping for the best when I was going out there, but now the expectations actually have a chance of being followed through."

"My first six starts, seven starts were just a battle from the first pitch on," he added. "And those kinds of things will strengthen you and will help you get better if you let it and don't get down on yourself. I knew if I just kept grinding and grinding and grinding, I would come up with something."

If values like these are being instituted throughout the locker room, the Cardinals will continue to battle for the N.L. Central crown.

Quotes and information attributed to MLB.com

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