KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The sun, the wind, and Jason LaRue's stocky body proved too much for Kansas City to overcome.
The backup catcher started his day by holding onto the ball in the first inning when David DeJesus came crashing into him trying to score. DeJesus, leading the majors with a .463 average with runners in scoring position, had to leave the game.But a fired-up LaRue proceeded to drive in four runs with a wind-aided home run and one of the strangest triples anyone will ever see, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-6 victory over their state rivals."My goodness," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "What more can you do? Big hits, big collision at the plate. He had a terrific day and handled the pitching staff on a tough day to pitch."LaRue's four RBIs in four at-bats were only nine fewer than he managed in 169 at-bats last year for the Royals."Today was one of my most exciting games," he said. "All in all, this day was probably one of my best."Albert Pujols also homered as every Cardinal batter had a hit but Adam Kennedy, who scored twice and drove in a run.A few minutes after the collision with DeJesus, and with gusts nearing 30 mph blowing across from left field, LaRue lifted what appeared to be a playable flyball into right off Brian Bannister. The right fielder faded back and then faded back some more, but the ball sailed over the fence for a 2-0 lead.Then with two outs and two on in the fifth, LaRue smacked a line drive straight toward center fielder Joey Gathright. As Gathright took a few steps in and prepared to make the catch, the ball suddenly and sharply hooked away. Gathright fell down, lunging futilely for the ball as it rolled to the wall. Both runners scored as LaRue, with speed befitting someone who's spent his life squatting behind home plate, labored into third with his first triple since 2004."It was coming right at me," Gathright said. "Then it cut. I was pretty much in shock when it went by me. I couldn't believe it cut that much. But there's nothing you can do."Royals manager Trey Hillman knew something weird had happened."I saw the same route everybody else did," he said. "I thought Joey had a bead on it. LaRue hurt us today. That home run and then that ball. That's tough when the ball gets out there and the wind doing what it did and knuckling 20 or 30 feet to the left."LaRue may have been the only person in the stadium who didn't see what the ball did."Usually I don't ever watch the ball when I hit it," he said. "I ran to first. I knew I hit the ball well and I looked up and saw that nobody caught it."LaRue took a lot of ribbing for having to stop at third."There's no speed at all. Zero speed," he said. "They were just laughing at me."Pujols led the parade."I think if my leg was healthy, I would have gotten an inside-the-park home run," Pujols said. "I was giving him a lot of grief about that. But he swung the bat great for us. He made that great play in the first inning and he set the tone in the second inning with the big home run."Hillman said DeJesus bruised his right rig cage and would be day to day.Bannister (7-7), who had been 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in five daytime home starts, lasted 4 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs on nine hits.Rookie Chris Perez (2-0) got the victory after relieving starter Braden Looper, who had a 5-3 lead when he was lifted with one out in the fourth and the bases loaded. Perez went 1 1/3 innings and gave up two hits and one run on Mark Teahen's RBI single.Pujols, who was hurt and did not play when the Royals swept three from the Cardinals last weekend in St. Louis, connected off Joel Peralta for a two-run shot that made it 9-4 in the sixth.Skip Schumaker doubled leading off the third and scored when Mike Aviles lost Rick Ankiel's popup in the sun. The Cardinals then made it 5-0 on Kennedy's sacrifice fly and Chris Duncan's RBI single.Bannister agreed LaRue made the difference."The triple was tough. Those are two big plays, two crucial moments with runners on base," he said. "I don't regret either one of those pitches because I think on a typical day, they would have been outs. But the elements got involved. It was a tough result because we could have won that ballgame today."Mark Grudzielanek was 4-for-5 with an RBI single and scored three times for Kansas City. Royals outfielder David DeJesus, who leads the majors in hitting with runners in scoring position, was removed from the game with bruised ribs after a collision at the plate with LaRue in the first inning.
DeJesus' 13-game hitting streak remains intact because he walked in his only plate appearance. ... Aaron Miles stretched his hitting streak to 11 games. ... The Royals' interleague record dropped to 13-5 record, second only to Minnesota. The Cardinals were 7-8. ... The three-game series drew 105,700.