DENVER -- Needing to retire the best hitter in St. Louis' lineup with the game on the line, the Colorado Rockies turned to the best pitcher they could find in their bullpen.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out who won that matchup.
Albert Pujols turned what looked like a perfectly placed slider from Jay Witasick into a three-run homer in the seventh inning Monday night to add to the Colorado bullpen's misery and lift the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory.
"There are only a few hitters in the league past or present that can hit that pitch out," Witasick said. "He's an exceptional hitter with exceptional power."
Witasick's 1-2 pitch was, indeed, well placed -- so well, in fact, that Pujols appeared to have only one hand on the bat when he made contact to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead.
Regardless, the homer ended a 10-game streak without allowing an earned run for Witasick (0-2) and marked the major league-high 11th blown save of the season for Colorado's beleaguered relievers.
"You guys can look at the replay and it doesn't look like I hit it very well," Pujols said. "It looks like I hit the ball with one hand, but I actually went down and got it, I went down and put the barrel on it."
Abraham Nunez added an RBI double in the eighth for St. Louis, and after the Rockies cut the lead back to one, Jason Isringhausen pitched the ninth for his 15th save, and his 20th straight dating to last season.
Jason Marquis (6-3) threw his last pitch trailing 3-1 in the sixth, but got the win thanks to Pujols' 12th homer of the season.
Trailing 5-3 in the eighth, J.D. Closser batted with runners on second and third and one out. Reliever Julian Tavarez threw a wild pitch to bring one run in, but Closser struck out and pinch-hitter Dustan Mohr lined out to end the inning.
Preston Wilson grounded into a double play with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth to end the game. The Rockies were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Jamey Wright may have saved his starting spot in the Colorado rotation with a strong, six-inning effort in which he allowed just one unearned run and four hits, even though it didn't net him a win.
Protecting a 3-1 lead, reliever Matt Anderson, the first pick of the 1997 draft, made his Colorado debut in the top of the seventh. He retired the first two batters, but then walked David Eckstein and gave up an infield hit to Roger Cedeno.
That set things up for the Witasick-Pujols matchup. Pujols won it and brought his RBI total to 42, helping the Cardinals win for the sixth time in seven games and improve to 16-7 on the road.
Those 16 wins are two more than the Rockies (14-35) have combined, home and away, and this loss was especially painful, though not much different than many others in a season full of close-but-not-quite moments for the young team.
"We did a lot of things to put ourselves in position to win," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I'm still shaking my head that the game's over."
Pujols went 2-for-3 with two walks, and his homer helped erase some embarrassing mistakes by the Cardinals, who looked more like bumblers than the Rockies through much of this one.
"Bizarre is a good description of that game," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "There were strange things. There were some heroics, and there were some things that show these men aren't machines."
Desi Relaford put Colorado ahead 1-0 in the fifth on consecutive Cardinals errors. Relaford reached on a three-base error on right fielder Cedeno, who had the ball in his glove, only to see it pop out when he landed on the ground. Relaford then scored when catcher Yadier Molina threw into left field trying to pick him off at third.
The Cardinals tied the game at 1 in the sixth courtesy of Relaford's throwing error.
But with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning, Wilson scored from third on a wild pitch by Marquis. After a walk, pinch-hitter Cory Sullivan got Colorado's only RBI when he hit the ball sharply to shortstop, but the second baseman, Nunez, was nowhere near the bag when Eckstein looked there to throw.
Notes: Rockies starter Shawn Chacon, who hurt his ankle running the bases last week, will throw a bullpen session Tuesday, and how he does will determine whether he makes his scheduled start Thursday. ... St. Louis outfielder Larry Walker sat due to a sprained ankle in Saturday's win over Washington. ... Jim Edmonds came in with homers in his last three games, but went 0-for-3. ... Hoping to shake things up after a road trip in which they batted .199, the Rockies tried the Little League trick of having everyone use the same bat the first time through the order. They went 1-for-7 with two walks.