ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rick Ankiel added a home run-robbing catch to his collection of jaw-dropping defensive plays, earning an assist in Todd Wellemeyer's most dominating start.
Wellemeyer allowed two hits into the eighth inning and Albert Pujols had two hits, reaching base for the 41st straight game to start the season, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-1 on Wednesday night.The most spectacular play belonged to Ankiel, in his first full season as the starting center fielder after flaming out as a wild left-handed pitcher. He leaped above the wall to deny Adam LaRoche of a home run in the second inning."That helped me out a lot," Wellemeyer said. "That was huge. Huge."Last week, Ankiel made two impressive throws to third base for assists. Responding to a question comparing the catch to Jim Edmonds' wall-climbing heroics over the years, Ankiel smiled and agreed it was a "little Jim Edmondsesque out there."For good measure, Ankiel tacked on a strong, unnecessary throw to the infield that nearly struck LaRoche as he was heading back to the dugout. Ankiel said he thought the throw had hit LaRoche on a bounce and apologized to the Pirates' first baseman after singling in the sixth."I was like 'Sorry for hitting you.' He was like 'Yeah, that's what my feelings are hurt about," Ankiel said.Cesar Izturis and Troy Glaus both had three hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who ended a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time in eight games behind a 15-hit attack. They stranded 15 runners, one off their season worst and their most in a regulation game. They handed the Pirates only their second loss in nine games, denying them a chance to reach .500 this far into the season for the first time since they were 30-30 on June 11, 2005.Before the game, manager John Russell said .500 was not a level the Pirates aspired to."You pick .500 as a goal, where do you go from there?" Russell said. "I don't think that's anything we're going to pop a champagne bottle over."Wellemeyer (4-1) allowed Luis Rivas' single with one out in the first, then gave up only three walks before Jose Bautista singled to start the eighth. Wellemeyer has worked seven innings twice but this was the first time he pitched in the eighth in a career spent as a reliever before last season.Wellemeyer said improved concentration has helped him last longer in games, and in this outing get by with less than his best stuff."You can get out there and start thinking too many things," Wellemeyer said. "You've got to let your body work and quiet your mind down."Pujols singled twice, drew his major league-leading 12th intentional walk in the fourth after Ankiel's two-out double and had the first of consecutive sacrifice flies off Paul Maholm (2-4) in the sixth that put the Cardinals ahead 4-0. His streak of reaching base is the best in the majors to start the season since Derek Jeter's 53-game run in 1999 for the Yankees. Pujols extended his second double-digit hitting streak of the year to 13 games.Maholm allowed four runs and 11 hits in six innings with three walks and six strikeouts, keeping the Pirates close by stranding 10 runners. The Cardinals left the bases loaded in the third, getting only Glaus' RBI double for a 2-0 lead, and left two on in the second and fourth."If a guy gets on I'm not really worried about it because I know I can get a sinker and get a weak pop-up," Maholm said. "There were probably three or four hits that didn't even make it out of the infield and a couple that just blooped over."All four of Maholm's losses have come on the road. At home, he's 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA."If I'd come out and not thrown really well, then I'd try and figure out what was going on," Maholm said. "But I felt confident that I was going to get every pitch over for strikes."For me, it was a positive, but I'd much rather have the win and the team have the win."The Cardinals left the bases loaded again in a scoreless seventh against Sean Burnett and have left 364 runners on base in the first 42 games, by far the most in the majors.The Pirates scored in the eighth when Izturis, the shortstop, fell down while backpedaling for Nate McLouth's two-out pop fly against Randy Flores. The ball dropped next to him in shallow center field for an RBI single.Jason Isringhausen, removed from the closer's role last week after five blown saves, worked a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Cardinals' run of homering in eight straight games ended. ... Pujols is 5-for-11 against Maholm with a homer, three RBIs and four walks. He's batting .333 (15-for-45) during his hitting streak. ... Wellemeyer is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts at home. ... Glaus has RBIs in consecutive games after going 12 games without one.