Pujols’ 3-run homer carries Cards past Pirates

AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Runner on third, runner on first, none out in the first and Albert Pujols at bat. No reliever should face such a situation.

The Pirates’ Sean Gallagher did. The result was almost predictable.

Pujols hit a three-run home run one pitch after injured Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf was pulled during a four-run St. Louis first inning, and the Cardinals moved to within a game of the NL wild card lead by beating Pittsburgh 10-2 on Monday night.

“That’s a tough inning to go into,” Pirates manager John Russell said, sympathizing with Gallagher. “When you starter comes out after two batters, that’s a lot of game for the bullpen to cover.”

Kyle Lohse (2-5), making his second start since spending nearly three months on the disabled list with a right forearm injury, pitched five scoreless innings before giving up Garrett Jones’ two-run homer in the sixth. Lohse was lifted one out later, but still won for the first time since May 17 against Washington.

Pujols had another big night, homering in his 10th game of the Cardinals’ last 19 while adding a single and a double in five at-bats. He has eight homers in 22 games against the Pirates since last season, and 43 in 149 career games against them.

Yadier Molina also had three of the Cardinals’ 14 hits and drove in two runs. St. Louis won its third in a row overall to cut the Phillies’ wild-card lead to a single game. The Phillies lost 3-2 at home to Houston.

Ohlendorf (1-11) threw only eight pitches before being removed due to soreness and tightness in his right shoulder, but they were enough to give him his fifth consecutive loss. According to STATS LLC, only four starting pitchers — including Tom Glavine and Roger Clemens — have thrown fewer pitches in a loss dating to 1988.

Ohlendorf walked Skip Schumaker and gave up Jon Jay’s single before alerting the bench of his shoulder problem. Pujols then homered on Gallagher’s belt-high pitch, a drive that cleared the Cardinals bullpen in center field and landed in the Pirates bullpen behind it.

Pujols’ homer was his 33rd of the season and 399th of his career. He is one away from becoming the 47th major leaguer with 400.

“Early in the game like that you want to make sure we get something out of that,” Pujols said. “He gave me a good pitch to hit and I put my best swing on it and it went out of the park.”

They often go out for him in PNC Park, where Pujols has 24 homers in 299 at-bats.

“Albert’s good everywhere,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If he’s not good in a series or two, he will be. It isn’t anything about this ballpark or this pitching.”

One day after acknowledging making nearly $36 million in profits from 2007-09, the Pirates almost couldn’t buy an out during the extended first inning. The Cardinals’ first six batters reached base as Pittsburgh’s two pitchers didn’t retire a batter until 22 minutes into the game.

“That’s a pitching coach and a manger’s nightmare, to see your starting pitcher go off like that,” La Russa said. “Nothing good can happen. And we stayed relentless the rest of the night.”

Ohlendorf will have an MRI test on Tuesday.

“It got worse with each pitch. I didn’t feel great warming up but I thought I could pitch,” he said. “Hopefully it’s in the muscle and not the shoulder.”

The Cardinals stretched the lead to 7-0 during a three-run fifth against Gallagher that started with Pujols’ double and included Matt Holliday’s run-scoring single and Molina’s RBI double.

Lohse struck out four, walked two and gave up two runs and six hits, a much better start than his first since returning to the rotation. He gave up seven runs and six hits in three innings of a 9-7 loss to the Cubs on Aug. 15.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Lohse said. “It feels good to contribute and have a good outing and get a win. I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement.”

The Pirates lost their sixth in seven games and 13th in 15 games, leaving them 16 losses short of their first 100-loss season since 2001. They must go 22-15 in their remaining 37 games to avoid 100.

NOTES: Lohse is 5-0 against Pittsburgh. … Pirates 1B-OF Jeff Clement was placed on the disabled list and LHP Justin Thomas was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Thomas allowed two runs in the ninth. … The Cardinals have outscored the Pirates 46-11 in their six victories against them this season. Pittsburgh has won once. … The Brewers’ Jamie McAndrew threw four pitches during a loss on Aug. 28, 1995.

Updated August 23, 2010