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Pujols, Cardinals strike back

MILWAUKEE -- Tony La Russa concluded his pregame remarks late Monday afternoon with a gentle reminder that while the Brewers have this season experienced great offensive success at Miller Park -- where they were, at the time, 61-24, due in large measure to a home output of nearly 4.9 runs per game -- his Cardinals can produce runs as well. In 85 road games, in fact, St. Louis had averaged more than 5.0 per game, and this season they had scored more runs in Milwaukee -- 45 -- than any team but the Brewers. "We hit here, too, and we like hitting here," La Russa said.

Hours later, against Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee's recently struggling starter, the Cardinals proved their manager correct in a 12-3 romp that leveled the NLCS at one game apiece. It was Albert Pujols who led the proving. In his final at-bat the evening before, in the seventh inning of Game 1 with St. Louis trailing 8-6, Pujols had just missed turning a Takashi Saito fastball into a three-run home run, instead fouling it off, and then grounded into a rally-snuffing double play. He would have hit a similar pitch hard seven out of 10 times, he said afterward, and in Monday night's first inning, he came through on those odds. With a man on first, Marcum threw Pujols an 89-mile-an-hour fastball at his waist, which recalled that waist-high, 92-mile-an-hour fastball Saito had thrown to him the evening before. Pujols, after swinging, watched the result sail toward the leftfield bleachers for a few seconds, before flinging his bat aside and beginning his well-practiced home run trot.

In Pujols's next at-bat, in the third inning, he crushed a two-run double to center over the head of a late-breaking Nyjer Morgan. In his next at-bat, in the fifth, he again doubled, driving in his fifth run of the day. Pujols only fell off his RBI-per-inning pace because his teammates failed to supply him with a man to drive in when he next came up, in the seventh. He again hit a double, this one of the ground-rule variety, down the right field line. He became the fourth player ever to have four extra-base hits in a postseason game. "God has blessed me with great talent to hit the ball from corner to corner," Pujols explained.

"Every time you think you've seen everything," said the Cardinals' G.M., John Mozeliak, "he does something."

Pujols's streak of extra-base hits ended in the eighth, when he broke his bat while grounding out to Brewers' second baseman Rickie Weeks. The fans in Miller Park cheered wildly, sarcastically and desperately, as at that point Pujols's teammates had already followed his lead. The Cardinals led 11-2, and were on their way to amassing 17 hits. Four Cardinals besides Pujols -- David Freese, Jon Jay, Yadier Molina and Nick Punto -- had more than one hit on the evening.

"Their offense is pretty deep all through their lineup," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. While Pujols was the headliner on Monday, his supporting cast also impressed, and it is the players with whom Mozeliak has surrounded his star that make the Cardinals the National League team likely to advance to the World Series. That the list of five Cardinals with more than one hit on Wednesday did not include either Lance Berkman or Matt Holliday -- 2a and 2b among St. Louis hitters, and each the owner, like Pujols, of a regular-season OPS that exceeded .900 -- speaks to the overall quality of a lineup that has now produced 70 hits in seven postseason games.

Game 3, on Wednesday night in St. Louis, will feature a matchup of aces in the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo and the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter, but that game, as well as Games 4 and 5, might well tilt in the Cardinals' favor not because they will be played away from Miller Park, but because their offense is relentless whereas the Brewers', once an opponent makes it through Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, often relents. St. Louis twice faced Gallardo in their September sprint to the playoffs, and they scored 11 runs in 10.2 innings against him, saddling him with a pair of losses. Carpenter, meanwhile, pitched a 2-0 shutout against the Brewers on Sept. 7.

"When your big guys play big, everybody else is on their coattails," La Russa would say late Monday night. "That just gets everybody excited, and everybody just contributes." Everybody contributes, Pujols most of all.

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