L.A. can't dodge Pujols

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez rubbed up a new ball, as the Cardinals' Albert Pujols circled the bases after hitting a solo home run in the first inning Monday at Busch Stadium. Pujols later added a three-run home run off Perez.

ST. LOUIS -- Odalis Perez has to be Albert Pujols' favorite pitcher. Any team Mark Mulder faces these days is his favorite.

Pujols drove in four runs with two homers off Perez, giving him four long balls against the left-hander in 12 at-bats, and Mulder tied his career best with 12 strikeouts in the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.

"Some guys you probably won't be able to get a hit, some guys you're going to hit it well," Pujols said. "Still, he's a great pitcher. I think he threw a good game besides making a couple of mistakes on me."

Mulder, the ace the Cardinals lacked in the playoffs last year, allowed a run and three hits in seven innings to win his fifth straight start. In the opener of a four-game series between division leaders, the former Oakland Athletic struck out the side around two singles in the seventh, his final inning.

"In the past I've had days like this every so often," Mulder said. "They're not very often. I feel good out there, I'm throwing strikes and getting ahead, and for any pitcher you need to do that."

Mulder (5-1) struck out 12 for the third time, the first since Sept. 17, 2002, against Anaheim. After a shaky first two starts with his new team, he has a 1.14 ERA in his last five outings. He allowed his only run on Cesar Izturis' two-out, RBI double in the fifth, which stopped an 0-for-12 skid.

"I think he did the best job of using the inside part of the plate that he's done in any of his games so far, and I think that made a big difference," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "I hate to say it, but it seems like he does something better each time he goes out there."

Mark Grudzielanek had two hits and David Eckstein extended his hitting streak to 10 games for the Cardinals, who have beaten the Dodgers six straight times at home counting last year's first-round playoff series.

"Whatever is in the past is in the past," Perez said. "Whatever good thing happened or bad thing happened, happened in the past."

Pujols hit a solo homer in the first into the visitors' bullpen beyond the left-field wall and hit a 3-2 hanging curveball from Perez (4-3) for a three-run shot in the fifth, putting the Cardinals ahead 4-1. He's 8-for-12 with 12 RBIs against Perez.

"You have to be careful with him," Perez said. "If you try to challenge him or you try to throw off-speed, he'll be all over that ball."

Perez gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings, losing for the first time in three career decisions at Busch Stadium. He was 0-1 in the playoffs against St. Louis, allowing eight runs in five innings over two starts.

Third baseman Scott Rolen's second fielding error of the game helped the Dodgers score an unearned run in the eighth, when Ricky Ledee had an RBI single off Ray King.

Al Reyes got the last out for his third save. The Cardinals are without closer Jason Isringhausen, on the disabled list with a right abdominal strain.

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