CHICAGO (AP) - Albert Pujols showed why so many Chicago Cubs fans - or at least two - are hoping he'll sign with the club this winter.
Pujols hit his 31st home run and Yadier Molina homered twice as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cubs 6-2 on Sunday night.
Pujols had four hits and took the National League lead in homers, no doubt impressing two fans sitting behind home plate in custom-made, No. 5 Pujols Cubs jerseys. The star slugger is expected to become a free agent after this season.
``He's Pujols,' Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez said. ``He's one of the best hitters in the game.'
This winter is a long way off however, and even though the Cubs entered Sunday's game having won 14 of 19, attention seems to drift toward little things, like sunflower seeds, when you're out of the running.
ESPN commentator Bobby Valentine used split-screen technology to point out during Sunday's broadcast that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is slow to get set on defense, sometimes because of the sunflower seeds he keeps in his back pocket. After the game, Cubs manager Mike Quade seemed more befuddled by the line of questioning than anything.
``I can't watch everything,' Quade said. ``I certainly try to. I'm managing a ballgame.
``I'll have to talk to my infield people about that, I don't know. The sunflower seed thing, guys stay loose with sunflower seeds or whatever.'
On Sunday, the Cubs' main problem was an inability to keep the ball in the park.
Lopez (4-4) allowed four homers and five runs in 5 1-3 innings. He said only two of the four home runs, Molina's first and Pujols' came off mistakes.
``I was a little disappointed (about) Pujols' home run,' Quade said. ``They were pitching him off the plate and everything was set up correctly as far as how we wanted to approach him.
``Molina's was just a hanging changeup. First pitch to Molina was a high fastball. It's just tough when you're a finesse guy. There's very little room for error. You miss up and over the plate, it's tough to compensate for that.'
The loss prevented the Cubs from sweeping a three-game series against their archrivals for the first time in over five years. Still, by winning two of three, Chicago put a serious dent in the Cardinals' playoff push.
``(Sunday's win) means is you survive and survive means you're still alive,' La Russa said. ``That's what we have going. We're still alive. We just have to string together some more wins than what we did.'
Pujols' solo shot in the fifth was his 53rd career homer against the Cubs, the most he's hit against any team. Pujols also singled three times for his fourth four-hit game of the season.
``A big win feels good,' Pujols said. ``I don't know what it is, over the last two or three road trips, we haven't started our road trips the way we wanted to. But it feels good to get a win tonight.'
Pujols has homered three times this season off Lopez after entering the season 0 for 11 against the veteran righty.
Jake Westbrook (10-7) held the Cubs to seven hits and two runs in seven innings, beating Chicago for the first time in three starts this season.
Aramis Ramirez had two hits and drove in both Chicago's runs. He had a double and run-scoring single and is hitting .487 (19 for 39) with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last nine games.
He added a sacrifice fly in the fifth, cutting the Cardinals' lead to 3-2, but it wasn't enough on a night when Lopez couldn't keep the ball in the park.
Notes: RHP Dillon Maples, the Cubs' 14th-round pick in the most recent draft, made his first appearance at Wrigley Field since signing with the club last Tuesday. The Cubs signed Maples away from the University of North Carolina, where he was to play both baseball and football, for a $2.5 million signing bonus, the most ever given to a player taken after the third round. Cardinals SS Rafael Furcal was held out of the lineup for the second straight day after jamming his right thumb during batting practice on Saturday. 2B Ryan Theriot was left out of Sunday's starting lineup because of hamstring tightness. Both players are listed as day-to-day. Cubs RHP Andrew Cashner will take the next step in his rehab process when he takes the mound for Double-A Tennessee on Tuesday. Cashner has been out with a strained right rotator cuff since his start for the Cubs on April 5, his only game action this season. The Cubs will start Ryan Dempster in the opener a four-game home series against Atlanta on Monday. Jair Jurrjens will pitch for the Braves. Dempster is just 2-11 in his career against the Braves. St. Louis returns home Monday for the first of three games against the Dodgers. The Cards will send Chris Carpenter to the mound against LA's Nathan Eovaldi. Carpenter has won all six of his career decisions against the Dodgers.
The Associated Press News Service
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