Tuesday night's game against the Mets was one the Cardinals couldn't afford to lose for a variety of reasons.
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And, thanks to Albert Pujols' refusal to let one of the worst slumps of his career and the fact that the Cardinals were facing one of the toughest pitchers in the National League knock his team out of first place, the game was pulled out of the fire in extra innings.
Pujols doesn't do anything subtly. And, tired of listening to critics and speculators dissect his health and his swing, he went 4-for-5 against the Mets and hit a pair of home runs to lead the Cardinals to a 12-7 victory. His first was a line drive statement off of the centerfield apple at the Mets ballpark. The second was a grand slam exclamation point in the top of the 10th that crushed New York's hope of getting back into the game.
Johann Santana was hot as a pistol coming into the game against a team that was shut out Sunday by a pitcher making his first big league start. But he was slammed for five earned runs on nine hits through eight innings. Unfortunately, the Cardinals hottest starter, Joel Pineiro, was worse. He gave up seven runs on 11 hits over just five innings.
But the bullpen slammed the door on the Mets and shut them out for five innings while the offense rallied from a 7-4 deficit in the eighth inning for the victory. Is it a coincidence that the Cardinals have suddenly become adept at pulling out late innings victories following the Matt Holliday trade? Even though Holliday only had one hit in six at bats, he played a large role in forcing the opposing pitchers to deal with Pujols and has a lot of responsibility for Albert's breakout.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Pujols
Lowlight of the game: Skip Schumaker seemed as if he might have made a game changing blunder early when he inexplicably stood at home plate as Santana muffed a short pop up between the pitchers mound and the third base line. He would have been safe with two outs and another runner on. Instead, the inning and scoring threat were over. But the mistake was of a mental nature and not a physical one as you could easily tell by his foul mood in the dugout following the play. Skippy more than made up for it in the ninth inning when he was down to his last strike before ripping a gapper that tied the game.