Albert Pujols has a souvenir from the St. Louis Cardinals’ latest victory: a good-sized welt on the left side of his neck.
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The three-time NL MVP took one off the noggin on a perfect day at the plate, stand-in cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick homered and the Cardinals beat the Seattle Mariners, 9-3, on Monday night behind a reworked batting order.
"You could have written that group any way you wanted to and we would have had some runs,” manager Tony La Russa said.
Pujols singled three times and walked twice as the Cardinals bounced back after totaling 19 runs during a 1-5 West Coast swing that dropped them out of the NL Central lead. Plus, he stayed in the game after a throw to the plate struck him near the left ear flap in the fifth.
"Took it like a champ,” Ludwick said in admiration.
Although Pujols’ ear flap absorbed some of the impact, La Russa said the team was been worried initially.
"We kept asking, ‘Are you dizzy? Do you have a headache or anything? And he said ‘No, no, no,”’ La Russa said. "He’s a tough guy; he’s proven that over and over again.”
Pujols said simply: “I’m all right.”
Ludwick finished with four RBIs and Adam Wainwright (9-4) pitched into the eighth after a shaky start. Matt Holliday also was a success batting second for the first time in his career, getting two hits and scoring twice.
"Listen, bro, he’s the head of this organization, and he’s the one that drives the ship,” Pujols said of La Russa’s batting order. "As a player, I’m happy just to be in the lineup. It doesn’t matter where he puts us, you’ve got to perform.
"We know that we have to get it going.”
The Mariners have lost six of seven, fizzling after Ichiro Suzuki hit the second pitch of the game for his 31st career leadoff homer — tying Chuck Knoblauch for 10th place. Suzuki also doubled in the eighth for his major league-leading 31st multihit game.
Suzuki was the first left-handed hitter to homer off Wainwright this season.
"I’ve heard he could win the home run derby if he wanted to,” Wainwright said. "Everybody knows he has power, especially on the pitch I threw him.”
Luke French (0-1) replaced struggling Ian Snell in Seattle’s rotation and allowed four runs in four innings.
"I wanted to go deeper and the first couple of innings were pretty rough,” French said. "The last two innings, I felt like I made the adjustment, made better pitches, got more ground balls, but I was definitely frustrated with the number of quality strikes.”
Colby Rasmus homered in a four-run fifth off Snell, one of the runs scoring when Pujols broke for the plate on David Freese’s chopper to third and was struck by Jose Lopez’s errant throw.
Pujols was helped off the field by teammate Yadier Molina after receiving treatment from a trainer, but just moments later was chatting with teammates in the dugout.
The Mariners had two runs on three hits in the first against Wainwright, and no runs and one hit over the next six innings. It was Wainwright’s 21st consecutive home start with three or fewer runs on his line, the longest streak in major-league history, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
"You like the way the game started,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "To give a guy like Wainwright a lead right back, it took a lot of momentum away.”
Ludwick batted fourth in place of Holliday, coming off a 3-for-22 trip. Ludwick hit a three-run homer in the first, a sacrifice fly in the third and doubled and scored in the fifth.
"I think the main thing is wherever you’re at, just getting a good pitch to hit,” Ludwick said. "I’m not reading too much into it, obviously. Matt’s a great hitter.”
NOTES: The Mariners are 15-17 at home and 9-23 on the road. … Entering the game, Ludwick had a single and no RBIs in 13 career at-bats against Seattle. … Wainwright is 55-28 in 100 career starts with St. Louis. … Suzuki has 245 interleague hits for fifth on the career list, one more than Ivan Rodriguez.