Pujols homers, knocks in 3 runs

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rolen and Marquis also provided highlights in a 9-1 victory.

ST. LOUIS -- For a guy who's never considered himself a home-run hitter, Albert Pujols is setting a blistering pace.

Pujols became the fastest player in major league history to reach 19 home runs, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night.

"I'm not a home run hitter," Pujols said. "McGwire's a home run hitter, Bonds is a home run hitter.

"I'm a line drive hitter with power, and that's it. All I try to do is just hit for average, and hopefully if I put a good swing on it the ball's going to go out of the park."

Pujols reached the milestone in his 37th game, beating Mickey Mantle in 1956 and Luis Gonzalez of the Diamondbacks in 2001 by three games. Pujols added RBI singles in the first and fourth, hiking his major league-leading total to 47, and flied out to the warning track in center field in the sixth.

He also struck out with the bases loaded to end the seventh against Brandon Medders, flipping his bat in disgust.

"I just liked his at-bats," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He just doesn't give any at-bats away, and he's competing all the time."

Pujols' heroics overshadowed a resurgent effort by Jason Marquis, who worked seven innings to end a four-game losing streak, and a five-RBI game by Scott Rolen. The RBIs for Rolen, including a three-run homer in the first, were his first since April 16.

The Cardinals have won seven of their last eight and are 14-3 against the Diamondbacks the last four seasons. They knocked out Claudio Vargas (4-2), who did not allow a run in his first two road starts, after beginning the third with three straight hits.

Pujols lined a 1-0 pitch from Vargas well over the left-field wall in the second inning, a drive estimated at 404 feet, to give St. Louis a 5-1 lead.

Mantle finished with 52 homers in 1956 and Gonzalez, who watched in left field as the ball soared over his head, had 57 in 2001.

Gonzalez, after walking in the sixth, complimented Pujols at first base.

"I told him that he's playing PlayStation right now," Gonzalez said. "He started laughing, but I was being serious. He's in one of those grooves."

Pujols, whose best homer total is 46 in 2004, was the second-fastest to reach 18 homers when he connected off the Rockies' Byung-Hyun Kim in the Cardinals' 35th game. He trailed only Cy Williams of the Philadelphia Phillies, who did it in 34 games in 1923 but then slowed considerably in a 41-homer season.

Marquis (4-4) allowed one run on three hits with four walks and one strikeout. The only blemish came on Conor Jackson's fourth homer leading off the second, which extended his hitting streak to 13 games.

The right-hander worked around two walks in the third when he caught Jackson looking at strike three. In his previous four starts, he'd allowed 22 earned runs in 22 2/3 innings.

"It's a step in the right direction, obviously," Marquis said. "Obviously, I don't have everything figured out but it definitely feels good to get this one out of the way."

Rolen's homer in a four-run first was his fourth, and first since April 16, and he added a two-run double in a four-run fifth that put the Cardinals ahead 9-1. He missed nine games due to a respiratory illness in late April and early May and had been struggling with his stroke since returning.

David Eckstein was 2-for-4, making him 10-for-20 in his last five games, and John Rodriguez had three hits and scored twice.

Vargas won his previous three starts, allowing only two runs in 20 innings, and had been 6-0 in his last seven road outings overall dating to last season. In three-plus innings he gave up eight runs on eight hits.

Vargas was uncomfortable pitching in 56-degree temperature at the start of the game.

"We come from Arizona where it's nice and hot and I haven't pitched in cold weather for a while," Vargas said. "So, it can wear you out."

The Diamondbacks have lost four of five following a seven-game winning streak.


* Pujols has 220 homers with the Cardinals, tied with Mark McGwire for fourth on the team's career list.

* The Cardinals are 16-5 at new Busch Stadium, all of them sellouts.

* Marquis beat the Diamondbacks for the first time in three career decisions and now has a victory over every National League team except the Braves.

* Eckstein leads the NL with 16 multihit games.

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