MILWAUKEE (AP) - Thanks to Albert Pujols' monster night, the St. Louis Cardinals have done exactly what they set out to do in the NL championship series: Erase the Milwaukee Brewers' home-field advantage.
After a 12-3 victory over the Brewers in Monday night's Game 2, the Cardinals are headed home tied in the series with ace Chris Carpenter taking the mound in Game 3. Things are looking a lot brighter than they did after blowing a big lead in the first game of the series.
``If you want to make it a competitive series, winning a game here, that's a big step in the right direction,' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Carpenter faces Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday night.
Sweep three games at home and the Cardinals move on to the World Series - but in a matchup of two intense NL Central rivals who have played each other evenly all season, nobody's counting on that.
``It's a pretty evenly matched series,' Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman said. ``I would imagine that this thing is a long way from being over.'
It was a temporary setback for the Brewers, who remain confident despite some cracks developing in their starting pitching beyond Gallardo and Zack Greinke.
``Sometimes, you're going to get spanked a little bit,' center fielder Nyjer Morgan said.
Pujols certainly spanked the Brewers' pitching in Game 2 - over and over and over. The three-time MVP went 4 for 5 with a home run, three doubles and five RBIs.
His big hits came one night after Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder bashed the Brewers to a 9-6, come-from-behind victory in Game 1. This time, the big bats couldn't bring Milwaukee back - even at Miller Park. Milwaukee was the best home team in the majors all season and the Brewers had won all four home games in the playoffs until Monday.
``It wasn't joyful,' Fielder said. ``You've just got to deal with it and move on.'
Until Monday, Pujols hadn't been producing runs in this year's playoffs.
He was 1 for 4 in Sunday night's loss, hitting into a double play with runners on first and third in the seventh inning. A run scored on the play, but it seemed to be an indication that Pujols wasn't quite on his game. He came into Monday with only one RBI in the Cardinals' first six postseason games.
``You learn from the mistakes that you made,' Pujols said. ``Yesterday was just so tough. Going to bed, I was just thinking about some of the opportunities I had to help our ballclub win. I turned that page, knowing today was a new day.'
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, of course, has seen such things from Pujols before.
``The last time we saw them at their place he was swinging the bat just like this,' Roenicke said. ``You can't make mistakes to him. You have to hit spots. You have to keep it down in the zone. He doesn't miss too many mistakes.'
Rickie Weeks hit a two-run homer in the fourth for Milwaukee, then was involved in a disputed play in the fifth. With the bases loaded and one out, Weeks grounded into a double play, though replays showed he was safe.
Weeks - hobbled by the lingering effects of a midseason left ankle injury - appeared to beat the throw to first base and seemed upset when he was called out.
``Big part in the game, whether he's safe or out,' Roenicke said. ``You guys saw the replay. That was a big play.'
But it didn't matter much after the Brewers gave up four runs in a backbreaking seventh inning. Fielder homered in the eighth, well after the outcome had been decided.
Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson went 4 1-3 innings, giving up Weeks' home run. Lance Lynn got the win.
It was a short and ugly start by Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum, who gave up five runs on seven hits in four innings and took the loss. Marcum, obtained in an offseason trade with Toronto, struggled mightily in the final month of the season. After a rough outing in Game 3 of the NL division series against Arizona, his place in the postseason rotation might come into question.
``We'll see how it goes,' Roenicke said, adding later: ``As far as I'm concerned right now he's pitching again.'
Marcum says he feels fine physically. And despite the run totals he has given up lately, he doesn't feel like opposing teams are hitting him that hard - and he isn't getting discouraged.
``If I was giving up 15 home runs a game and getting hit all over the park, probably,' Marcum said. ``When you make pitches and they make jam jobs and bloopers that fall in, nothing you can do about it if you're still making pitches and locating.'
The Associated Press News Service
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