There is joy in St. Louis tonight as the beloved Cardinals defeated their oldest rivals, the Chicago Cubs, in a game St. Louis did not lead until the game's final swing. Albert Pujols, long the hero to Cardinal Nation and mired in a months-long, groundball-heavy slump as confounding as it was frustrating, capped off a dramatic come-from-behind win on Sunday (and weekend series sweep) with a solo home run that was the coup de gråce for the lowly Cubs.
The Cardinal first baseman demonstrated his penchant for clutchyness for the second time in as many days late this afternoon as the shadows elongated across the Busch diamond and the rivals again dueled into extra frames. Rodrigo Lopez was happy to offer a sacrificial lamb to the Pujolsian heroics, piping a high-eighties fastball to the Cardinal slugger which Pujols promptly deposited in the left-center bleachers much to the joy of the St. Louis faithful in attendance, the fans watching at home, those commenting on VEB, and Pujols himself, who high-stepped into a the celebration that manifested itself around home plate.
The Pujols dinger made the Cardinals a winner, but it was a fate the club likely owes more to number 29 than number 5. Chris Carpenter spun what was likely his best start of the season, lasting nine innings just a day after the Cardinals bullpen shouldered six and one-third innings due to an early exit by Saturday's starter, Kyle Lohse, and extra innings. Carpenter surrendered two runs, scattered seven hits, walked two, and struck out six before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the ninth inning. Fernando Salas handled a scoreless tenth and will be the "winning" pitcher in baseball record books for his comparatively light effort.
With the sweep of the Cubs, the Cardinals move to 11 games over .500, but sit atop the National League Central by a precarious two games over the surging Brewers, who today won a dramatic extra-inning affair of their own before many empty seats in whatever corporate name has been given to the stadium which houses the Marlins.
Tomorrow offers the Cardinals a day off, which will give Colby Rasmus an opportunity to recharge, Lance Berkman the chance to heel, and the bullpen some rest. Hopefully Pujols does not cool down. On Tuesday, the club will play the role of visitors at the mallpark in Houston to face the once-proud and now-lowly Astros, lone occupants of the Central cellar (though, with just two fewer tallies in the loss column, the Cubbies may soon join them).