Jake Westbrook pitched his best game of 2011 and Yadier Molina hit an extremely timely three-run homer to give the Cardinals a 3-0 win Sunday night and help St. Louis take two of three games in their first meeting of the season with the Reds.
Westbrook -- who has been hit hard, early and often in every start he's made going back to spring training -- allowed only three hits over six innings. He struck out four and walked three before handing the game off to the bullpen to complete the shutout.
With both sides scratching for a run when it looked like the rubber game of the series could be cut short by rain at any time, Albert Pujols popped up on a 3-1 pitch that was high and inside for the first out. But Matt Holliday doubled to right field to give the Birds a chance for a quick knockout blow.
The Reds countered by walking Lance Berkman to give the Cardinals first and second with one out which brought infielder Daniel Descalso to the plate. Descalso popped a foul ball up the right side for the second out. But, without a home run previously this season, Molina yanked an inside pitch into the left field bleachers to provide all the scoring for the game in one blow.
While the lousy ESPN broadcasting team waxed on about all the problems of the Cardinals bullpen, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Mitchell Boggs combined to allow no runs on one hit and no walks while striking out six Cincinnati batters -- two apiece.
Boggs gave up the lone hit, a one-out double in the ninth to Joey Votto, but rebounded to notch his third save in three tries.
The Cardinals, 12-10, are a half game ahead of the Brewers and a whole one ahead of the Reds after taking two of three. One bad inning in the middle game cost the Birds what might have otherwise been a sweep. They take on the Astros for a three-game set starting Tuesday in Houston. Check back in the morning for a series preview.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Yadier Molina
Cardinals Play of the Game: Yadi's two-out game-winning homer.
Lowlight: First baseman Albert Pujols left the game with what was reported to be a slight hamstring pull. He suffered the injury while trying to let out a ground ball. The Cardinals said the injury wasn't severe and Pujols was removed for precautionary reasons. But they probably won't know how bad it was until the morning.