ST. LOUIS (AP) -With zero input from Tony La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals kept driving.
The manager watched alone from a booth behind the plate, serving the first of a two-game suspension for his role in an altercation with the Cincinnati Reds earlier in the week, as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 6-3 on Friday night. Albert Pujols homered for the sixth time in 11 games on a three-hit night and Jake Westbrook got his first win in three tries since joining the team at the trade deadline.
``I really thought we were ready to play,' said La Russa, who showed up for his postgame news conference in jeans and a polo shirt. ``But I didn't have anything to do with this. I was definitely a fan.'
Yadier Molina, whose objection to getting his shin guards tapped by Brandon Phillips' bat sparked that fracas with the Reds, got a prolonged standing ovation before singling in the second inning. Molina added a pair of sacrifice flies.
``I was standing up, too,' La Russa said. ``The fans know what's going on.'
Colby Rasmus walked four times, two more than his previous high, and Matt Holliday doubled twice with an RBI to help the Cardinals win their fourth in a row and build on a sweep of the Reds that propelled them into first place in the NL Central.
``Listen, talk to me about Chicago right now,' Pujols said. ``Whatever happened in Cincinnati, stays in Cincinnati. This is a new series and everybody's focused. We flip the page.'
The Cubs fizzled after putting Westbrook (1-0) on the ropes early with four straight one-out hits in the first, including Marlon Byrd's two-run single.
Rookie starter Thomas Diamond (0-3) was knocked out after four innings for Chicago, which has lost 14 of 16 and did not benefit from manager Lou Piniella's return from a four-game bereavement leave to tend to his ailing mother.
``We had a chance in the first inning to pick up a few more runs and stranded a couple of runners at second and third,' Piniella said. ``We just didn't hold the game in check.'
Pujols' homer was the first allowed by Diamond in three career starts.
``I started out OK,' Diamond said. ``The first couple of innings were all right and then pitch location went out the window.'
Derrek Lee, also back from a bereavement leave to tend to his ailing grandfather, homered off Fernando Salas in the eighth and also doubled in the first.
Pujols hit his 395th career homer, most ever by a player in his first 10 seasons and one behind Joe Carter for 50th on the career list, to straightaway center with two outs in the first. He added two singles, each time scoring, and is batting .442 the last 12 games.
Pujols had 17 putouts at first base, a reflection of Westbrook's ability to pound the sinker.
Westbrook, acquired from the Padres for Ryan Ludwick at the trade deadline to provide rotation depth behind twin aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, retired 17 of his final 20 batters. The right-hander has worked six innings in all three of his starts with the Cardinals and is 20-9 in August, his best month for wins.
``I think if I had done a little better job in the first inning, I might get a little deeper,' Westbrook said. ``That's the only thing that discouraged me, only going six.'
Westbrook doubled leading off the fourth for his third career hit in 19 at_bats, and scored his first career run on Jon Jay's RBI single for a 4-2 lead. One of his other two hits came against Carpenter in 2006 when he was with the Indians.
``That was the first time on third base for me in the big leagues,' Westbrook said. ``So yeah, that was fun.'
Ryan Franklin worked the ninth for his 21st save in 23 chances.
NOTES: Paid attendance of 45,546 was the Cardinals' 19th sellout and their third largest of the season. ... The Cubs played their first game in St. Louis. The last time the NL Central rivals met at Busch this late in the season was Aug. 13, 1999. ... The Cardinals have scored four or more runs every game in August, going 7-3. ... Cardinals SS Brendan Ryan made the play of the game, going deep in the hole to glove Blake DeWitt's grounder and then throwing from the grass in time to end the third. ... The Cubs are 12-26 in series openers. ... Westbrook had three strikeouts after totaling 16 his first two starts, which matched Sam Jones (1957) as the most for the franchise since 1920. ... Pujols has scored in 11 straight games, totaling 17 runs.
The Associated Press News Service
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