Albert Pujols, who has been strugging at the plate since his early return from the disabled list, found his stroke in a big way Saturday night.
The Cardinals slugger had three hits in four at bats -- including a game tying homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, to help the Birds overcome some early setbacks and come back to beat Arizona 7-6.
Like the day before, the Cardinals got out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. But they watched the lead get turned upside down by some shoddy defense and plain old bad luck and sleepwalked through the middle innings.
In the top of the second the Diamondbacks got a couple of scratch hits to start the inning with runners at first and second. Sean Burroughs sacrificed the runners to second and third, so Chris Carpenter pitched around Willie Blumquist to load the bases for the bottom two hitters in the batting order.
Juan Miranda struck out to bring the pitcher to the plate with two outs. Carpenter let Daniel Hudson get a pretty good piece of a pitch. But he hit a line drive right at centerfielder Colby Rasmus. Rasmus not only inexplicably pulled up short of catching the ball. But he was too close to it to react when the ball bounced and it skipped by him to allow the bases to clear. Arizona was suddenly up 3-1... And Carpenter didn't seem pleased.
Arizona added runs in the fourth and sixth innings to make the score 5-1 and the Redbirds seemed to be dead in the water. But Rasmus singled to lead off the sixth and catcher Yadier Molina followed with a ground rule double. Nick Punto, who pinch hit for Carpenter, walked to load the bases. The Cardinals scored one run on a Skip Schumaker single to make the score 5-2 and another on a rally killing double play off the bat of Ryan Theriot to make it 5-3.
In the eighth, pinch hitter Jon Jay led off with a single and Skip Schumaker followed with a safety to right center. Jay alertly moved to third when the Diamondbacks centerfielder juggled the ball. He then scored after Ryan Theriot popped out to short center as the outfielder dropped the ball as he was getting ready to throw it in.
Pujols, who had struck out weakly in his previous at bat, then pounded a pitch into the D-Backs bullpen to knot the game at 6 runs.
In the ninth inning Lance Berkman singled but was retired on a force out when Rasmus failed to bunt him to second base. But, after Molina walked to force Rasmus to second the Cardinals sent third string catcher Tony Cruz to the plate and Cruz belted a ball into the right centerfield gap to push Rasmus across the plate. He was mobbed by his teammates at second base and Cruz nearly had his jersey torn off his back by the mob.
The victory improved the Cardinals from third place back into a first place tie with Milwaukee as the Brewers lost to the Reds and the Cubs beat the Pirates.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Pujols who was 3-for-4 with three runs driven in.
Cardinals Play of the Game: Cruz's game winning hit.
Lowlight: Rasmus' non catch.