ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols is making a late, long shot run at his second batting title. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa believes he's already done enough to earn a second MVP award.
Pujols homered and had three hits to run his streak to seven straight over three games in St. Louis' 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night. He raised his average four points to .357, eight behind the Braves' Chipper Jones with two games to go."Albert is a great player, as great as anybody playing today, and he shows it to you all the time," La Russa said. "Just watch."Pujols has reached base nine of his last 10 plate appearances, the lone exception a sacrifice fly on Thursday. He's batting .403 in his last 35 games with an at-bat, and leads the majors in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and road batting average while totaling 36 homers and 114 RBIs.Pujols was MVP in 2005 and won the batting title with a .359 average in 2003."The reality is if he doesn't win it's because you guys didn't do your job," La Russa told reporters before the game. "There's some good candidates, but he's a great candidate and he should win."Troy Glaus drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the ninth inning. Javier Valentin's sixth career pinch-homer, a two-run shot off Ryan Franklin (6-6), had tied it at 6 with two outs in the top half.Reds pinch-hitters were 3-for-3 in the ninth while handing the Cardinals their 31st blown save, tied with Seattle for the most in the majors.Felipe Lopez singled off Bill Bray (2-2) for his third hit with one out in the 10th, Pujols walked and Mike Lincoln hit Ryan Ludwick with a 1-2 pitch before Glaus hit a towering drive to medium center, scoring Lopez easily.Reds starter Bronson Arroyo reached 200 innings for the fourth straight season, ending at exactly that many after allowing five runs on a career-high 13 hits in seven-plus innings. Joey Votto hit his 23rd homer, a two-run shot in the fourth.Manager Dusty Baker normally would have pinch-hit for Arroyo in the top of the seventh, but let him bat in pursuit of an individual achievement."It's kind of a goal, especially doing it the hard way this year," Arroyo said. "But I would have taken 199 with a win."The Reds' ninth-inning rally deprived Braden Looper of a 13th victory on his sixth attempt, which would have set a career best. Looper allowed four runs and seven hits in seven innings and finished at 199 innings.Pujols' homer in the fifth was a massive drive well beyond the visitor's bullpen in left, a two-run shot estimated at 433 feet. He singled twice and walked twice while Jones, 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter the last week due to right shoulder inflammation, did not play Friday and remained at .365.Reds left fielder Jerry Hairston struggled to make the play on all three of the Cardinals' triples, two by Adam Kennedy."Certainly wasn't my finest hour, or should I say my finest day," Hairston said. "It's just one of those days where I really couldn't do anything right."Kennedy tripled to start the sixth on a drive that sliced just out of Hairston's reach. He and scored on Looper's triple for a 5-4 lead when Hairston anticipated the ball deflecting where the stands jut out near the field and ended up chasing a ball that just missed the barrier.Hairston just missed flagging down another opposite-field drive by Kennedy to start the eighth for the third triple, and Cesar Izturis' sacrifice fly made it 6-4.
Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, a player, manager and coach with the Cardinals since 1945, was honored with a bobblehead night that drew a sellout crowd of 44,709. His low-key impression of his statuette, a young Schoendienst kneeling with a bat: "It's all right." La Russa said Schoendienst told him it was "cute." ... The Reds are 3-10 at Busch Stadium the last two years. ... Kennedy has three triples the last two games, four overall. ... The Reds will start their only left-hander of the season in Sunday's finale, going with Adam Pettyjohn, to snap an 180-game streak by right-handers. The Cardinals will end the year with only two starts by lefties, one each by Mark Mulder and Jaime Garcia. ... Arroyo's previous high for hits allowed was 11 on June 24 at Toronto.