The Redbird Report 04/10

Albert Pujols did homer in the first game of the season, but that clout was annulled when the game was rained out and didn't go five innings. So he officially had gone a career-high eight games without a homer at the start of a season before Wednesday's series-deciding game in Houston.

"You watch him all spring (Pujols had five homers in Grapefruit League play), and he's as dangerous as ever," manager Tony La Russa said. Indeed. Pujols hit his first and second homers of the season Wednesday as the Cardinals took over first place in the National League Central.

Pujols, who got on base four times and drove in three runs with three hits, said, "I made a couple of adjustments and looked at some video. I'm glad I got it (the first homer) out of the way.

"I had a great spring, and when you have a great spring you want to carry it into the season. When you don't do that, you sometimes tend to panic a little bit. This was my best swing of the month."

A young Cardinals team that wasn't given much chance at the start of the season is tied for the best record in the league. Pujols said the veterans are following the lead of the younger players.

"I've felt the energy," Pujols said, "since the first game of spring training."

CARDINALS 6, ASTROS 4: The Cardinals scored their third consecutive series victory and closer Jason Isringhausen capped another standout night by the bullpen by posting his fifth save in five opportunities. Right-handers Kyle McClellan, Ryan Franklin and Isringhausen and lefty Randy Flores allowed only one run over the final 3 1/3 innings.

NOTES AND QUOTES --A run-scoring single in the first inning by 1B Albert Pujols was his first hit in five at-bats with men in scoring position this season. He has had nine walks.

--C Yadier Molina singled to extend his hitting streak to seven games -- all the games in which he has played.

--RF Skip Schumaker, admittedly pressing when he started the season 0-for-16, apparently has relaxed now. As the leadoff man, Schumaker reached base four times Wednesday, including three hits.

--Although RHP Braden Looper, the starter, had trouble finishing off some hitters in the fifth and sixth, he navigated 5 2/3 innings, giving up three runs. The Cardinals' earned run average by the starters rose to just 1.95 for the first nine games.

Looper, known for his sinker, hasn't allowed a home run to the Astros in 72 1/3 innings in his career.

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