HOUSTON (AP) -- Albert Pujols got his first home runs of the year after a heated, pregame exchange with Houston's Brandon Backe on Wednesday night.
So does that mean that he plays his best when he's riled up?Pujols blew off the suggestion after his homers led the St. Louis Cardinals to a 6-4 win over Houston to take their third straight series."No matter who gets me mad or doesn't get me mad, I'm going to go out there and play the game the right way every time," he said.The exchange lasted a few minutes. It involved yelling and ended with Astros manager Cecil Cooper putting his arm across Backe and guiding him away from Pujols. It apparently was over Pujols sliding into Astros catcher J.R. Towles in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' win over the Astros on Tuesday, an event Pujols had already apologized to Towles for.Pujols also had an RBI single and Rick Ankiel added two RBIs.Cardinals manager Tony La Russa scoffed at the notion the incident had anything to do with his play."How does that explain him hitting .300 every year?" La Russa said. "He plays with an edge all the time. He's a great player. He's a fierce competitor. You think there's incidents before every game?"Pujols ended the longest home run drought to start the year in his career, hitting two in his ninth game. His previous long season-opening drought was five games, last season. He actually homered in the Cardinals first try at their opener, but it was called in the third inning because of rain and the stats were erased.He said the key Wednesday was a video session earlier in the day."I watched a couple of videos and I made some adjustments at the plate because of some things that I saw the last couple of games," he said. "I knew what I was doing wrong and it's a good thing that I picked it up early and I felt good out there and had success today. Obviously it helped me out."St. Louis opened the season with series wins over Colorado and Washington before taking this one 2-1. They won three consecutive series' just once last season.A two-run sixth inning cut the Cardinals lead to one before Pujols' first home run, a shot to left center field to start the seventh, stretched the lead to 5-3.Michael Bourn's run-scoring double off Randy Flores in the seventh put the score at 5-4. But Skip Schumaker caught a fly by Hunter Pence to end the inning with Ryan Franklin pitching.Pujols answered again, this time sending one to right field in the ninth.Franklin also pitched a scoreless eighth before Jason Isringhausen did the same in the ninth for his fifth save.Pence doubled and scored on a double by Lance Berkman that made it 4-2 in the sixth inning. An RBI single by Carlos Lee chased Cardinals starter Braden Looper (2-0) and cut the lead to 4-3.Miguel Tejada doubled and scored Houston's first run on a sacrifice fly by Mark Loretta in the fifth inning.A day after breaking a 0-for-16 slump, Schumaker doubled before scoring on a single by Ankiel in the fifth that made it 4-0.Looper allowed five hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out four."I felt better today than I did last time," he said. "I felt better mechanically. I felt better physically. It's just kind of unfortunate at the end there I just made a few bad pitches to the wrong guys."A RBI single by Pujols made it 1-0 in the first inning. Chris Duncan scored later in the inning on a single by Troy Glaus.Ankiel's double in the third scored Duncan and pushed the Cardinals lead to 3-0.Houston starter Chris Sampson (0-1), who has struggled with flu-like symptoms all week, lasted four innings. He allowed six hits and three runs."I was tired, drained," he said. "I went as long as I could as hard as I could. It's very frustrating... it's tough to breathe, you're coughing stuff up, and your nose is running. I felt weak all week long and I ran out of gas."
Catcher Humberto Quintero, designated for assignment March 29 by Houston, cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday. ... Astros 2B Kaz Matsui, who is recovering from surgery to repair an anal fissure, will continue his rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi Thursday-Saturday and could rejoin the Astros on Sunday.