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Pujols' three HRs lift Cards, kids with Down Syndrome

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Albert Pujols has a daughter with Down
Syndrome, and the St. Louis Cardinals' annual "buddy walk" game
always seems to bring out his best.

Children with Down Syndrome circled the field in pregame
ceremonies and then stood with players at their positions during
"The Star-Spangled Banner." More than a few asked him to hit a
home run for them.

He then homered in his first three at-bats, honoring Isabella
Pujols and all special needs children in a 6-3 victory over the
Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

"It's always good to do something special for those kids, but I
don't try to put pressure on myself," Pujols said. "It doesn't
matter if they're there or not. I'm just going to try the best I
can to help my team to win."

Since Pujols became spokesman for the "buddy walk" games in
2002, he's 9-for-20 with five homers, nine RBI and seven runs
scored while the Cardinals have gone 4-1.

"If that's the case," he said, "we need to bring those kids
more often."

Pirates pitcher Ian Snell said he had to laugh after Pujols'
third straight home run off him. He also said he felt like giving
last year's NL MVP a high-five.

"I mean, that's unreal," Snell said. "That's like Superman
playing baseball."

Pujols connected with the bases empty in the first, and hit
two-run drives in the third and fifth, all off Snell (12-9). He's
4-for-6 with four homers and seven RBI against Snell, and with 42
homers reached the 40-mark for the fourth straight season. It was
his third three-homer game, his second of the season.

Philadelphia's Ryan Howard homered in his first three at-bats in
a doubleheader opener against Atlanta. It was the first time two
players homered three times on the same day since Pujols and
Cleveland's Travis Hafner did it on July 20, 2004. It was the first
time a pair did it in the first three plate appearances since
Cincinnati's Johnny Bench and Atlanta's Orlando Cepeda -- a pair of
Hall of Famers -- on July 26, 1970.

Pujols missed a bid for a fourth homer in the seventh with a
drive to left off Brian Rogers that was caught by Jason Bay just
shy of the warning track, protesting afterward that he never tries
for the long ball.

"Was I trying to hit the first one, the second one, the third
one?" Pujols said. "No, I just try to have good at-bats. Like I
say, it's not about me, it's about my team."

Many fans stood during the at-bat and gave Pujols an ovation as
he trotted back to the dugout. Prodded by teammates, Pujols
rewarded a sellout crowd with curtain calls after his second and
third homers.

"He's such a hungry hitter, he's always got a chance," manager
Tony La Russa said. "He just got under it a little bit against a
pitcher he's never seen before."

Pujols, who also homered three times against Cincinnati on April
16, entered in an 8-for-38 slump with only two-extra base hits in
10 games since homering twice and driving in a career-best seven
runs on Aug. 22 at New York. He has been hampered somewhat by elbow
soreness, although he has not missed any games.

Pujols scored his 100th run on the third homer, giving him 100
or more in each of his six seasons. He's the only player in major
league history to hit 30 homers, score 100 runs and bat .300 in his
first five seasons, and he is batting .321 this year.

The previous player to hit three homers off the Pirates was
Vinny Castilla of the Astros, on July 28, 2001, in the opener of a
day-night doubleheader.

Anthony Reyes (5-6), retooled from a brief demotion to the
minors, struck out the side in the first, fanned a career-high nine
and allowed four hits in 6 1-3 scoreless innings. A 24-year-old
rookie, he was optioned to Triple-A Memphis after giving up five
runs in 3 1-3 innings against Cincinnati on Aug. 16. He returned to
emphasizing his fastball in the minors, striking out 17 in 13
scoreless innings over two starts, and is taking injured Mark
Mulder's spot in the rotation.

"He's pitched really well in several of his starts, but this
was a big one," La Russa said. "This is September now, the end is
in sight."

St. Louis completed a 7-2 homestand by taking two of three from
the Pirates, who swept them earlier this month in Pittsburgh. The
Cardinals won the season series 9-6.

Snell, who had won three of his previous four starts, lasted
five innings. He gave up five runs ands seven hits with seven
strikeouts in five innings. He has allowed 25 homers and joked that
Pujols' third homer "was going to hit the Arch."

"This is not going to rattle my confidence for the rest of the
year," Snell said. "But today was a struggle with one guy and it
cost me big-time."

Ronny Paulino, Ryan Doumit and Jose Castillo drove in runs in
the ninth for Pittsburgh.

Game notes
An unusual fielding play helped Reyes out of trouble in the
fifth. Snell's grounder off the third-base bag with two outs
deflected high into the air before Scott Rolen snagged it in time
to make a diving tag on Doumit, running from second. ... Bay was
2-for-4 with a strikeout after going 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts
in the first two games. ... Cardinals starters have allowed four
runs over 29 1-3 innings the last four games.