PITTSBURGH (AP) - Albert Pujols swears he doesn't feel more comfortable at PNC Park than any other road venue in baseball.
Maybe, but it sure doesn't seem that way.
The St. Louis slugger went 4 for 5 - including his 27th career home run at the park tucked against the Allegheny River - to lift the Cardinals to a 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
``Let me tell you, look at all ballparks, he does it every place he plays,' said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa. ``He's just a phenomenal hitter. There's nothing special about here; he just hits everywhere.'
Pujols continued to dominate Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm (6-10), going 2 for 3 to improve to .583 (21 for 36) career versus the veteran left-hander. Pujols downplayed his success, saying he doesn't think about the past when he steps into the batter's box.
``It doesn't matter if I have good success against a guy or no - I take every at-bat like it's my last at-bat of my career, believe it or not,' Pujols said.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Pujols isn't going anywhere this season. He has struggled a bit since coming off the disabled list earlier this month, but appears to be heating up.
His two-run shot to right-field in the first was his second first-inning homer in as many days. He added a single and two doubles as the Cardinals pounded out 15 hits.
David Freese broke out of an extended slump with two hits, including a two-run homer of his own as St. Louis pulled into a virtual tie with the Pirates in the crowded NL Central standings.
Chris Carpenter (6-7) gave up four runs in eight innings to win his fourth straight decision for the Cardinals. Fernando Salas pitched the ninth inning to collect his 18th save.
Carpenter gave up four runs in eight innings and benefited when the Pirates ran themselves out of rallies in the second and sixth innings.
``It was a battle all night,' said Carpenter, who gave up 10 hits, striking out four and walking one. ``There's no question I didn't have my best stuff, but I was able to throw pitches when I had to.'
Maholm (6-10) had won four straight games at PNC Park, but a sloppy first inning sent him to his first home loss in two months.
Blame Pujols, who looks right at home at PNC Park and has had little trouble having his way with Maholm.
``He's a good hitter, I'm going to be aggressive,' Maholm said. ``I'm going to come in and hitters are going to get their hits and I'm going to stick with my game plan.'
Freese added a two-run shot of his own in the first, though Maholm (6-10) settled down to last six innings, giving up five runs on 10 hits, striking out two and walking two.
``I thought (Maholm) made some adjustments the deeper he got into the game,' said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. ``I thought he got much better rhythm, much better tempo, much better location.'
The 29-year-old had been lights out at PNC this season, particularly over the last two months. He began the night 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA over his last four home starts, one of the main reasons why Pittsburgh has found itself in a pennant race for the first time in nearly 20 years.
He still, however, doesn't have an answer for Pujols. Then again, not many pitchers do.
He hit a two-run shot in the first on Thursday to spark the Cardinals past the New York Mets and wasted little time getting to work against Maholm, taking the first pitch he saw and sending it into the right-field seats to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
Three batters and five pitches later Freese put St. Louis up 4-0 after his fly ball to right field sailed into the muggy night and just over the wall to give Carpenter some breathing room.
``Any four-run lead early is nice, no matter if you've got your dominant stuff or you don't,' Carpenter said. ``I just tried to be aggressive as I could and settled in by the end there.'
Garrett Jones had two hits and two RBIs for the Pirates, who dropped their second straight game since Tuesday, when they rose into first place this late in the season for the first time since 1992.
Mike McKenry added three hits and Andrew McCutchen and Ronny Cedeno had two hits apiece for the Pirates, who killed a pair of rallies with base-running gaffes.
Pittsburgh scored twice in the second to get on the board, but McKenry got caught between second and third after Maholm's RBI-single to end the inning.
Jones knocked home McCutchen and Lyle Overbay in the sixth to pull the Pirates within 5-4, but was nailed trying to get to second.
``Against a guy like Carpenter you don't want to make outs on the bases and we fell into the category twice tonight,' Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh would get no closer, as Yadier Molina sent a fastball from Chris Resop over the fence in center in the eighth to provide the winning margin.
Notes: St. Louis P Kyle Lohse will make his regularly scheduled start on Sunday after an MRI revealed no significant damage to the middle finger of his pitching hand. ... The game marked the 10th sellout at PNC Park this year, the most since the ballpark's inaugural season in 2001. ... The game was delayed 30 minutes by rain.
The Associated Press News Service
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