Albert Pujols got to bed about 3 a.m. after the St. Louis Cardinals’ six-game opening trip, and reported to Busch Stadium about seven hours later. Fatigue? Trumped by the adrenaline of playing the home opener.
Pujols homered and drove in four runs his first two at-bats against longtime nemesis Wandy Rodriguez and Adam Wainwright worked eight scoreless innings Monday in a 5-0 victory over Houston, dropping the Astros to 0-7. Cardinals players were pumped after the traditional pomp of a motorcade circuit of the warning track, the chance to shake hands with 89-year-old Hall of Famer Stan Musial and a crowd of 46,918 — largest for a regular-season game at the 5-year-old ballpark.
"You know, our opening days are pretty special,” Pujols said. "I wish we could get more time to stretch and get loose before the game, but obviously it’s always exciting and we’re looking forward to it.
Article continues below ...
"Don’t look at how late we got in, but concentrate on trying to get a win,” he said.
New batting coach Mark McGwire drew one of the biggest cheers during the pregame introductions before his first home game since retiring after the 2001 season. The Cardinals have scored five or more runs in all but one of their first seven games.
"I think the jury’s out as a coach, but it’s not out for those of us who are on this team,” manager Tony La Russa said. "He’s doing a really good job as a coach and teammate.”
Pujols hit an RBI single and a three-run homer and Ryan Ludwick went 4 for 4. Wainwright (2-0) pitched eight scoreless innings and added his first career pickoff.
The Astros are off to their worst since opening 0-9 in 1983. They’ve been shut out three times while facing a string of aces – Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Roy Halladay and Wainwright already – and have scored a major league-low 13 runs.
"We haven’t had many games where we can just tee off on the dude,” Astros center fielder Michael Bourn said. "They’re great pitchers and you want to show you can compete with them.”
Pujols got more than even with Rodriguez (0-2), one of the few pitchers who had given him fits. The three-time NL MVP got hits in his first-two at-bats against the Houston left-hander, and walked in the fifth to load the bases.
"This guy is a good hitter,” Rodriguez said. "I can make a mistake and he wins, that’s what happened.”
Pujols entered just 5 for 31 with no homers and only one RBI against Rodriguez, his most anemic numbers against a left-hander with a minimum of 20 at-bats.
"Yes, I was 5 for 31 but I look at the quality of at-bats I got against him,” Pujols said. "If I’m striking out against the guy, rolling over or popping up, I’d be more concerned.
"But I didn’t do anything different than I’d done in the past, I was just getting good pitches to hit and I made sure I didn’t miss.”
Pujols is .438 (12 for 32) with three homers and 14 RBIs in 10 home openers. He has five homers the first seven games, the best start of his career, after going without a long ball the final 89 at-bats last season.
Pujols underwent elbow surgery shortly after the end of the season.
"Albert’s amazing, he’s just amazing,” La Russa said. "Clutch hits, and here’s a guy who’s been rougher on him than anybody.” Ludwick added an RBI triple in the seventh when the ball dislodged from Bourn’s glove when he slammed into the center field wall. That was plenty for Wainwright, who gave up six hits and struck out seven.
Rodriguez allowed four runs in 4 1-3 innings, falling to 3-10 with a 4.17 ERA for his career against St. Louis. According to Cardinals statistics, none of the 21 batters he faced swung and missed.
The Cardinals opened the first with three straight singles, the last by Pujols stroked to left for the lead. The top of the order clicked again in the third with one-out singles by Skip Schumaker and Ludwick preceding Pujols’ drive into the visitors’ bullpen in left on a 1-0 hanging breaking ball for a 4-0 lead.
Wainwright walked one and allowed two runners into scoring position, and none after the second. He’s 8-1 with a 1.72 ERA against the Astros, also throwing eight scoreless innings in his final start against Houston last season, on Aug. 25.
"The crowd, that was unbelievable,” Wainwright said. "I felt very in-tune with my mechanics, I felt strong.”
Bourn had two hits and a steal for the Astros, including his third infield hit of the season. Carlos Lee was 0 for 4 with a double play ball and is 3 for 27 and dating to the end of last season has gone 11 straight starts without an RBI.
Lee is among six players with 100 RBIs each of the last five seasons. NOTES: It was the Cardinals’ first shutout in the home opener since McGwire’s first home opener with St. Louis, a 6-0 victory over the Dodgers on March 31, 1998. McGwire hit a grand slam off Ramon Martinez and four pitchers led by Todd Stottlemyre combined on a three-hitter. … The Cardinals opened at home for the first time since 2006, the year new Busch opened, and ended a three-game losing streak in the home opener. … Ludwick was 3 for 21 on the Cardinals’ 4-2 trip to start the year. … Cardinals backup C Jason LaRue (hamstring) was sore and day to day after getting hurt Sunday night in Milwaukee. … The Astros flipped two lineup slots a few hours before game time, moving Hunter Pence to third and Pedro Feliz to sixth.