Sunday Morning Coffee with Ray Mileur

St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit a grand slam and a three-run homer to match a career hign with seven RBIs, to lead St. Louis past the Astros 11-2, Saturday.

Pujols is off to a monster start this year and may well be on his way to another National League MVP title if he continues at the pace he's setting early on this season. Through his first six games, Pujols is hitting.429 with three homers and nine RBIs in the team's first six games.

In Saturday's blowout, Rick Ankiel who has struggled through the first week of the season and Joe Thurston had three hits apiece for the Cardinals, who finished with 19 hits overall.

Starter Adam Wainwright pitched five shutout innings, giving up just four hits and three walks, while striking out four, to pick up his first win.

Jason Motte struck out two in the sixth as he tries to regain his grip on the closer's role. Brad Thompson gave up two runs to Houston in the ninth. Motte or Thompson could be on the bubble, if the Cardinals decide to recall Chris Perez from Memphis to pitch out of the bullpen.

Ryan Ludwick, who didn't play Saturday, went 2-for-3 in Friday's game and extended his career high hitting streak to 15 games. Ludwick pieced together an 11-game hitting streak at the end of last season. He is batting .420 (21-50) with six home runs over the course of the streak. Luddy received his 2008 Silver Slugger Award prior to Saturday's game.

Now for the something about Tony La Russa that is already driving me nuts, why is Ludwick sitting out on the day he gets the Silver Slugger Award? How many other 2008 Silver Slugger Award winners were on the bench yesterday?

I'll venture and guess - "0".

Ludwick has already set out two of the Cardinals first six games, are you kidding me?


Chris Carpenter is back, he picked up his first win since the 2006 World Series with Thursday's gem, allowing his only hit after six and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball. It was Carpenter's first regular season win since September 16, 2006. With Carpenter back and in Cy Young form already, the Cardinals should be able to keep pace with the Chicago Cubs, oh, wait a minute, that's right, we're already ahead of the Cubs.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS - "7", the uniform number of Mickey Mantle, but seven was a magic number for Pujols this week. Seven RBIs Saturday and the perennial Gold Glove candidate had seven assists Wednesday, five on groundouts with the pitcher covering first base. The seven assists were a record for Cardinals first basemen and the most by a Major League first baseman in a 9-inning game since Pittsburgh's Bob Robertson had eight on June 21, 1971.

IN THE WINGS - P.J. Walters looked a lot like Chris Carpenter in Memphis Saturday night, carrying a no-hit bid into the sixth inning as he picked up his first win of the season. Look for Walters to be the most likely minor league candidate to get the call to St. Louis if they need a spot or emergency starter.

Chris Perez may not be in the minors very long, he's already picked up his first win and first save of the season. He'll get the first call to shore up the bullpen this season. Don't look for him to return to the minors after he arrives in St. Louis.

INTERIM CLOSER - Don't look for La Russa to settle on a closer anytime soon, but Ryan Franklin who led Cards' relievers in saves (17), wins (6), innings (78.2) and appearances (74) last season will probably be given the most opportunities to pick up a save for now.

HAPPY EASTER - If things go according to plan the Cardinals should be able to beat the Astros today to make it a Happy Easter across Cardinal Nation. The Cardinals, wrapping up their seven-game homestand, have won their last five games played on Easter Sunday and are 7-1 this decade on the holiday, they did not play on Easter in 2002.


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