CHICAGO (AP) — Albert Pujols’ stellar play is not showing any signs of slowing down despite his club being on the brink of postseason elimination.
Pujols hit his league-leading 42nd home run and the St. Louis Cardinals held off the Chicago Cubs 8-7 Sunday, preventing the NL Central from being clinched.
The first-place Cincinnati Reds won at San Diego and also needed a loss by the Cardinals to win the division.
"What’s to lose? We’re going to go out there and continue to do what we’ve been doing since day one and go out there and play hard," Pujols said. "Hopefully, we’ll keep putting that pressure on them that they have to win. It’s not over."
Pujols hit a three-run homer and Matt Pagnozzi drove in three runs as the Cardinals took an 8-0 lead in the fifth inning. The Cubs’ rally fell short, and they finished 35-46 at Wrigley Field this season.
Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook (3-4) pitched 5 1-3 innings and allowed three earned runs. He didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the fifth inning, then retired only two of his next 10 batters.
Ryan Franklin got five outs for his 26th save in 28 opportunities. He retired Xavier Nady on a popup with runners on first and second in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth inning.
As Cardinals manager Tony La Russa watched his team struggle to hold off the Cubs, he was perplexed by the way his team has played against below .500 teams. St. Louis is 45-49 against losing teams this season.
"That’s been ridiculous. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in all my years. I have no explanation, we’ve just had a tough time beating clubs with a losing record," La Russa said. "And I don’t mean they’re losers because they’re playing really well now and a lot of times they’re playing young guys with a lot of spark. Our record has not been very good. This club just swept us in St. Louis, so it was good to get two out of three here."
Jeff Smardzija (2-2) allowed eight runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings. He also walked seven.
"It’s a big challenge for Jeff to get his command where it is supposed to be," Cubs interim manager Mike Quade said. "There is a lot of good people in this organization who have been working with him. He will keep working, that’s the deal. It’s about command, we know his arm strength, his soft game is coming along, you have to throw strikes and quality strikes and everybody at this level does."
Pujols’ homer highlighted a four-run first inning. His drive into the wind landed on Waveland Avenue, and Smardzija walked the next two batters before Pagnozzi hit an RBI single with two outs.
"They were aggressive, and I was aggressive, too," Pujols said.
St. Louis scored four more runs in the fifth. After two walks, Smardzija gave up an RBI single to Brendan Ryan and Pagnozzi followed with a two-run double.
Pinch-hitter Brad Snyder had a two-run single in the Cubs’ fifth.
Kosuke Fukudome had an RBI double in the sixth and Westbrook’s outing ended after walking Bobby Scales with one out. Scales later scored on pinch-hitter Micah Hoffpauir’s two-out single.
The Cubs closed to 8-7 in the seventh, helped by center fielder Colby Rasmus’ two-base error. Reliever Mitchell Boggs struck out Alfonso Soriano and Welington Castillo to end the inning.
Quade, who grew up in Chicago, may have managed his last game at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform as general manager Jim Hendry continues to interview candidates.
"It’s been a tale of two seasons for me with the responsibility here the last few weeks," Quade said. "I’ve enjoyed the challenge and I was happy for the opportunity and the guys have played pretty good and that’s been a lot of fun. Overall, we got to get better and we all know that. Someone asked a while back if I think we could contend. Absolutely I think we can contend. I am an optimist and there is enough pieces here. I can’t go home this winter without believing that and whoever is running the show here will feel that way."