Cards break out behind Pujols

Cards break out behind Pujols

ST. LOUIS -- A couple of the finer points were still missing, but the Cardinals did the big things on Sunday, and that was plenty for a win over the Royals at Busch Stadium. St. Louis pounded three booming home runs and got seven-plus innings from Jason Marquis in a 9-7 victory on a sweltering afternoon.

The Redbirds of recent vintage have been built around starting pitching and the heart of the lineup, and both provided positives on Sunday. Marquis (10-6) flagged a bit at the end of his start, but was firmly in command for most of the afternoon. And the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters all hit 400-foot-plus home runs.

For a team that had leaned hard on its bullpen lately, and that had come up short offensively when the starters had pitched well, the win was as welcome as the air conditioning inside the home clubhouse.

"It's definitely fun to watch that today," Marquis said of the offensive eruption. "Hopefully those guys can get rolling, just like the pitching staff hopefully can go on a run, and put this slide behind us."

The win was the Cardinals' second in 12 games, but it was enough to put them back in sole possession of first place in the National League Central. Cincinnati lost to Cleveland to fall one game back.

Marquis fell behind, 1-0, in the first, but locked in after that, not allowing another run until the seventh. He issued just one walk and struck out five.

His up-and-down season took an upward turn with a fine showing. Over his previous two starts, he had been hammered for 20 runs, but on Sunday he was sharp, efficient and effective. Marquis became the first Cardinal to 10 wins this season, reaching that mark for the third straight season. Only Tom Glavine has more victories in the National League in 2006.

"When he's not walking guys, he's making better pitches to the guys that he's not walking," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "The count is better. I thought he had his delivery under control today a little bit better. He wasn't really trying to do too much. He was just concentrating on making pitches."

In the bottom of the third, a single and a walk brought up Albert Pujols with no outs, and the slugger smoked a three-run go-ahead shot 401 feet to left field. Yadier Molina added a two-run single and Marquis drove in a run with a base hit as the Cardinals erupted for six runs in the third.

It was homer No. 27 for Pujols, who trails Ryan Howard by one for the Major League lead.

Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds hit back-to-back solo shots in the fifth to stretch the advantage. Rolen has gone deep in three of the last four games, and has hit long balls in consecutive contests for the first time since April 16-17, 2005 -- before he sustained a serious shoulder injury. The Redbirds have seven circuit clouts over the past two games.

"A good week, I guess," said Rolen. "I'm not going to downplay a good week. I'm feeling good at the plate. But the story hasn't changed with me, with my shoulder. Full strength will be next year. But I'm not complaining about where I am.

"I hit a ball today and it traveled. So I'm just going to try to take good at-bats and see what happens."

The last time Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds all went deep in the same game was July 26, 2004, in a 9-6 win at Cincinnati.

"That's our chance to have a really productive lineup, is to really get deep with guys swinging the bat," said manager Tony La Russa. "And if you look at clubs, including our own, when we score runs and we're a better offensive club, we have more than a couple guys swinging and having tough at-bats."

Kansas City closed the gap against Marquis and three Cardinals relievers, getting the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning. But Braden Looper got John Buck to ground out to end the game, and the Cards finished their last pre-All-Star homestand with a win.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.