for this game

Pujols homers as Cardinals' magic number reduced to two

Sep 30, 2006 - 3:46 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Who else but Albert Pujols could be expected to come through for the St. Louis Cardinals?

The reigning National League MVP, Pujols highlighted a five-run fifth inning with a three-run homer, paving the way for the Cardinals to post a much-needed 10-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the second contest of a critical four-game series.

Preston Wilson belted his 17th home run, Yadier Molina scored two runs and Juan Encarnacion collected four hits for St. Louis (82-77), which boosted its lead in the NL Central Division to 1 1/2 games over Houston (81-79).

The Cardinals also reduced their magic number for clinching the division to two.

"This is what we play the whole season for," Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver said. "After the way it started for me the first half of the season, to be in a pennant race like this is all you can ask for. We're just looking for a couple of more wins so we can put an end to this."

The Astros had their nine-game winning streak snapped with a 4-1 setback to the Atlanta Braves on Friday.

"That's no easy assignment for Houston," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Atlanta has as much pride as anyone in major league baseball. That's a tough assignment.

"We try to take care of our own business and we did tonight."

On the verge of a monumental collapse after dropping eight of their previous nine games, the Cardinals may have reversed their fortunes with a big rally in the fifth.

Weaver (5-4) drew a leadoff walk and David Eckstein reached on a bunt single. After So Taguchi bounced into a forceout, Pujols deposited the third pitch he saw from Milwaukee starter Chris Capuano (11-12) over the center field wall for a 6-1 cushion.

"That's a pretty good offensive team over there," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "You make a mistake, especially in the middle of that lineup, and they're going to hurt you."

It was the 48th blast of the season for Pujols, who is a candidate for his second consecutive NL MVP Award.

Scott Rolen hit an RBI double and Molina added a run-scoring single later in the frame for an 8-1 cushion.

"It helped our pitchers be able to relax a little bit," Wilson said of the big inning. "We've been in so many tight games they really didn't have any wiggle room, any room for error."

The lead was more than enough for Weaver, who posted his first home win in seven starts this season. The righthander allowed three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings to improve to 3-0 over his last five starts overall.

Capuano was reached for eight runs - six earned - and seven hits in five frames. He won only one of his final 15 starts.

"Definitely not the way I would have liked to finish the season," Capuano said. "That's a tough thing to take going into the offseason. There were enough positive things that happened this year that I can look back on and the team can look back on."

Corey Hart belted a two-run homer in the sixth inning and rookie Prince Fielder and Bill Hall hit back-to-back shots in the eighth for the Brewers.

The Cardinals can wrap up their third consecutive NL Central title on Saturday with a win and an Astros loss.

"What we need to make sure we do is do what we've had trouble doing," La Russa said. "That's keeping our eye on the finish line and backing up with solid games. We've got to make sure there's nothing different about our game tomorrow as far as the way we approach it."

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