Pujols' pinch-hit HR leaves Pirates 1 loss shy of 17th consecutive losing season

PITTSBURGH -- The way Ross Ohlendorf was pitching, once needing only nine pitches to strike out the side, the Cardinals knew they needed something special to win. Few are better at supplying something special than Albert Pujols.

Pujols led off the 10th inning with his second career pinch-hit home run, and St. Louis withstood Ohlendorf's dominating start to beat Pittsburgh 2-1 on Saturday night and leave the Pirates one loss short of an unwanted record.

The Pirates lost their ninth in a row and 81st of the season and, with one more loss, would become the first team in any of the four major American pro team sports to endure 17 consecutive losing seasons. Previously, only the Phillies from 1933-48 also had 16 losing seasons in a row.

Not that it matters much to the Cardinals, who are coasting with an 11 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.

Facing Capps for the first time since the reliever was ejected for hitting him in the side with a pitch Aug. 9 in Pittsburgh, Pujols hit a 1-2 pitch far beyond the center field wall for his major league-high 44th homer.

"I don't care who you are, you remember," manager Tony La Russa said, recalling last month's incident.

Pujols insisted he wasn't trying to get back at Capps, even though taking a fastball to the ribs hurt him for several days.

"Not revenge," said Pujols, whose three-run shot led St. Louis to a 14-7 victory on Friday. "What I'm trying to do there is get on base and try to help my team win a game. ... I don't even want to talk about that."

Pirates manager John Russell said, "It's pretty amazing. He's phenomenal. He had two strikes on him and still won the game for them."

Blake Hawksworth (2-0) pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth for the victory after starter Mitchell Boggs gave up one run in seven innings. Ryan Franklin finished up in the 10th for his 37th save in 39 opportunities.

Ohlendorf allowed only an unearned run over eight innings and became the 40th major league pitcher to strike out the side on nine pitches in an inning, but didn't figure in the decision.

Ohlendorf struck out Khalil Greene, Julio Lugo and Jason LaRue in the seventh, the second time in the game he struck out the side, and had so much movement on his pitches that catcher Ryan Doumit dropped the third strike on each batter. Doumit threw to first each time to get the out.

"I was thinking about it after about the fifth pitch, it kind of crossed my mind because I don't think I've ever done that," Ohlendorf said. "I threw a lot of sliders that bounced for strike three, and he did a great job of knocking them down and going and getting them and throwing them out at first."

Ohlendorf, 8-2 at home with no losses there this season since May 29, struck out a career-high 11 and walked one.

A.J. Burnett of the Yankees is the only other major league pitcher to strike out the side on nine pitches this season, accomplishing it June 20 against Marlins. Of the 40 pitchers to perform the feat, only Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax did it twice. The only other Pirates pitcher to do it was right-hander Jeff Robinson against the Cubs on Sept. 7, 1987.

The Cardinals' lineup was missing Pujols, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Mark DeRosa and Brendan Ryan, with Holliday sitting down for the first time in 39 games since being traded to the Cardinals.

"We had a heck of a bench," La Russa said. "But we also had a heck of a lineup."

Troy Glaus, out until last week while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, made his first start since last Sept. 28 at first, and La Russa plans to start him again Sunday at third.

The Pirates took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Lastings Milledge's run-scoring double, but might have had a bigger inning if it weren't for left fielder Rick Ankiel's excellent running catch of Steve Pearce's drive toward the left-center gap that created a double play.

The Cardinals tied it in the sixth despite getting only one hit, Skip Schumaker's leadoff single. Schumaker advanced on Ohlendorf's balk and scored when third baseman Andy LaRoche misplayed Ryan Ludwick's ground ball for an error.

Game notes
Ludwick was hitless in four at-bats a night after getting five hits and driving in five. ... C Tony Sanchez, the No. 4 pick in the June draft, was moved from the Pirates' Class A Lynchburg farm club to West Virginia so he could appear in the playoffs.