Pujols' three-run homer bails out CardinalsSep 28, 2006 - 3:26 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Albert Pujols stepped to the plate with the game and, perhaps, the season on the line. He delivered in a big way.
Pujols slammed a towering three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the St. Louis Cardinals to a badly needed 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres in a matchup of division leaders.
The Cardinals staggered into the game with seven straight losses and were four outs away from their third eight-game slide of the season when their MVP candidate rescued them with his career-high 47th homer, a 425-foot shot off Padres reliever Cla Meredith.
"When you're trying to break a losing streak and this close to the finish line," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of his slugger. "This is the most huge of the huge ones he's had because he's had a bunch of them."
"I don't put any pressure on myself," Pujols said. "I just got a good pitch to hit and I put my best swing of the night."
Adam Wainright worked around a two-out single in the ninth to record his second save and halt San Diego's winning streak at six.
The Cardinals (81-76) maintained their 1 1/2-game lead over the surging Houston Astros in the National League Central Division. The Padres (85-73) saw their margin shrink to 1 1/2 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
Pujols insisted that the team was not panicking.
"If you're one-and-a-half or two games back, then that's when you should panic," Pujols said. "We don't need to play a catch-up game here. Somebody has to catch us. We don't need to go catch somebody."
The Cardinals put two runners aboard against Scott Linebrink (7-4) in the eighth as David Eckstein reached on a fielder's choice and Aaron Miles walked. Linebrink came back to strike out Chris Duncan, prompting Padres manager Bruce Bochy to turn to rookie sensation Meredith with Pujols up next.
"It was just a tough spot I put him in, I know," Bochy said of Meredith. "I got a guy out there who doesn't give up home runs. Maybe I went to the well once too often there but the kid's been doing a great job.
"Pujols has done that a few times."
He did it once more, crushing the second pitch he saw deep to left field, giving him a major league-leading 27 game-winning RBI, 19 of those resulting from home runs. Pujols has 133 RBI on the season, also a career high.
"He's Albert Pujols, man, what do you want me to say?" Meredith said "I might have thrown that pitch a 100 times this year and gotten away with it. He got me that time."
"It's tough when you face a guy throwing from the side like that," Pujols said. "I just go out there and try to get a good pitch to hit. If they give me a good pitch to hit I do damage. If they don't I take my walk."
St. Louis overcome another strong performance by San Diego's Chris Young, who has not lost in his last 24 road starts dating to June 25, 2005.
The 6-10 righthander, who threw 8 1/3 no-hit innings in his last start, limited the Cardinals to one run and three hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking two.
"That guy is amazing," Pujols said. "He's tough. Now I can see why people around the league have problems hitting him."
But the Cardinals got a big effort from rookie righthander Anthony Reyes, who allowed just one run and five hits in six innings.
"I had everyone tell me to go out there and just have fun," Reyes said. "Try not to think about anything and just pitch your game."
"we're all disappointed in the outcome of the game but we're still in good shape," Young said. "We're in first place tomorrow morning and still control our destiny."
Tyler Johnson (1-4) got the victory despite giving up the go-ahead run in the eighth on a wild pitch.
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