CHICAGO — Albert Pujols didn’t see anything different in his three-homer performance Sunday in comparison to the period in which he connected once in 28 games.
Pujols hit three long balls and Adam Wainwright pitched seven impressive innings, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
Pujols homered in the first, fifth and ninth innings for his fourth career three-homer game, and first since Sept. 3, 2006, against the Pirates. He has hit four home runs in four games after the drought.
“This game is hard. This game is not easy. … I think sometimes people take that for granted,” Pujols said. “This is just another day. Tomorrow I want to contribute for my ballclub.”
Pujols dismissed the idea that his recent struggles were related to injuries.
“I’m still in the lineup and playing everyday. I told you guys in spring training and early in the year that you never play this game 100 percent. Every day something bothers you,” Pujols said. “I think sometimes people take that for granted. They think we’re automatic, that we are supposed to hit a ball out every time. They think you can’t struggle in this game.”
Pujols had a season-high four RBIs and took over sole possession of second place on the Cardinals’ RBI list with 1,150. Pujols only trails Stan Musial who had 1,951 RBIs for St. Louis.
“I’ve tried to explain his greatness to all our fans so that they never take him for granted,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “He is a great, great baseball player.”
The Cardinals, who begin a three-game series against the NL Central-leading Reds on Monday, won their first series at Wrigley Field since taking two of three from the Cubs April 20-22, 2007.
Wainwright (7-3) improved to 5-0 in his last eight starts against the Cubs. He allowed just one run on seven hits. He struck out eight and walked two.
Wainwright didn’t mind taking a back seat to Pujols and the rest of the offense.
“Yeah, I love it. I wish it was like that every time. Albert made a lot of good swings today, a lot of our guys had good swings today,” Wainwright said. “He’s (Pujols) a self-taught genius at what he does.”
The Cardinals finished a six-game road trip 3-3 and showed offensive life after getting shut out by Carlos Silva and the Cubs on Saturday. The Cardinals’ 2-5 hitters had 12 of the team’s 14 hits. Pujols’ had three hits and Matt Holliday added four. Holliday is 10 for 17 in his last four games.
David Freese, who also had three hits, hit a two-run shot for the Cardinals.
All nine of the Cardinals’ runs came after two outs.
Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (3-5) allowed six runs on nine hits. He struck out seven, walked three on 125 pitches.
“Today I didn’t execute pitches when I needed to. I gave up six runs with two outs,” Dempster said. “That’s a lack of execution.”
With two outs in the first, Pujols hit a towering shot on a 1-2 pitch that easily cleared the left-center bleachers and landed on Waveland Ave.
“The first one he hits, it happens, but the second home run he fouled off a lot of really, really, really good pitches leading up to that, then I hung a slider right over the middle of the plate and he hit it off the firehouse across the street, said Dempster.
In the fifth, Pujols pulled Dempster’s two-out, 3-2 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole and onto Waveland to give St. Louis a 4-0 lead. It was Pujols third multihomer game of the season and 36th overall and he is just one game behind Stan Musial for most in club history.
Pujols’ third home run of the game came off John Grabow in the ninth. He hit a 1-2 pitch to straightaway center for his 12th of the season. After Holliday singled, Freese hit his fourth home run of the season.
Geovany Soto homered in the seventh for the Cubs, who finished a six-game homestand 3-3.
In the second inning with two outs, Aramis Ramirez tried to score from second on Starlin Castro’s single, but center fielder Jon Jay threw out Ramirez at the plate.
The Cubs had another scoring chance spoiled in the fourth, with bases loaded and one out, Castro hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Brendan Ryan to set up an easy inning-ending double play.
NOTES: Cubs RHP Carlos Zambrano will return to the starting rotation Wednesday at Pittsburgh. LHP Tom Gorzelanny will be moved to the bullpen. … Cubs manager Lou Piniella said the Cubs plan to call up RHP Andrew Cashner sometime during the upcoming three-game series at Pittsburgh. Cashner, who was the Cubs first pick in 2008, will be used as a reliever. … The 125 pitches thrown by Dempster are his most since throwing 126 Sept. 8, 2001, vs. the Mets, while with the Marlins. His career high is 130 on August 21, 2000, at San Francisco, while with Florida.
The Associated Press