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Archive for Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pujols haunts K.C.; St. Louis cruises

June 20, 2009

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— Every team that faces Albert Pujols has a difficult dilemma: pitch to one of the greatest right-handed hitters of his generation or put him on and hope someone else doesn’t hurt you.

The Kansas City Royals tried it both ways and failed both times.

Pujols hit a two-run single when the Royals pitched to him, and Ryan Ludwick hit a grand slam when they didn’t, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat in-state rival Kansas City, 10-5, Friday night.

Khalil Greene and Rick Ankiel also hit consecutive homers off Kyle Davies (3-7) to give St. Louis an early seven-run lead. Colby Rasmus had two RBIs and four of the Cardinals’ 14 hits.

Brad Thompson (2-2) overcame homers by David DeJesus and Miguel Olivo for his second straight win after an 11-game winless streak.

The real drama, though, came in Pujols’ first two at-bats, when the two-time NL MVP lined a two-run single and intentionally walked to set up Ludwick’s first career grand slam. Two approaches, one outcome, very little hope.

“It’s a pitcher’s problem and a hitter’s plus,” said Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who earned his 2,498th career win.

More than 37,000 fans packed Kauffman Stadium to see the Interstate 70 rivalry, at least half of them wearing Cardinals red. Pujols put on a show for the early-bird Redbirds fans who crammed along the third-base line, launching one homer after another during batting practice, including one shot that landed a just below the concourse behind the seats in left.

But would the Royals give him a chance to do it during the game?

Kansas City manager Trey Hillman said yes, even after his pitchers walked the reigning NL MVP seven times — four intentional — in a three-game series in May.

Hillman’s proclamation was put the test right away, when Skip Schumaker and Rasmus led off the game with consecutive singles. With first base open — thanks to a passed ball by catcher Olivo — the Royals opted to pitch to Pujols. He lined a two-run single to left.

“I’m going to pitch him and be aggressive,” Davies said. “It was the right pitch. He was just able to put the bat on it.”

Faced with same situation in the third inning, the Royals didn’t take any chances and intentionally walked Pujols — his majors-leading 22nd of the season — sparking a chorus of boos from fans of both teams.

That didn’t work, either.

Ludwick hit a towering shot that landed just below the fountains in left center, putting the Cardinals up 6-1 and sending Pujols across for his 1,000th career run.

“It’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll pitch to a guy that has got nine home runs over a guy who has 23 and 75 percent more RBI production any day,” Hillman said. “Kyle left another fastball out over the plate. Obviously, you’re hoping for a double play ground ball. I go for a less damaging situation and it didn’t turn out that way.”

The Cardinals weren’t done with Davies. Ankiel and Greene followed Ludwick’s shot with consecutive homers, chasing the right-hander after 2 2-3 innings. Davies allowed eight runs on nine hits, the fifth time he’s allowed seven or more runs in 14 starts.

Of course, it’s no surprise the way the Royals have been pitching lately. Kansas City has allowed 34 runs and 45 hits during a three-game losing streak, giving up at least 10 runs in three straight games for the first time since 2005.

“I had good tempo and mindset going into the game,” said Davies, who has one win in his past nine starts. “I just didn’t make a whole lot of good pitches.”

Thompson made just enough, allowing four runs on five hits in seven innings.

Notes: Greene left in the sixth inning as a precaution after fouling a ball off his left foot. ... C Vance Wilson, who spent eight years in the majors with Detroit and the Mets, has been activated by the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City’s Double-A affiliate. Wilson hasn’t played since 2007 due to elbow problems. ... Royals CF Coco Crisp will see a specialist Monday to get a second opinion on his sore right shoulder.

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