MONTREAL — Tony La Russa chose the right guys to keep in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup while giving some of his regulars a day off.
Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds hit home runs, and Chris Carpenter pitched eight impressive innings in the Cardinals’ 5-2 victory against the Montreal Expos on Sunday.
The Expos held the Cardinals to 11 hits in the first two games of the series, including three in Saturday’s 2-0 loss. Against Claudio Vargas, though, La Russa rested right fielder Reggie Sanders, catcher Mike Matheny and third baseman Scott Rolen, who missed his first start of the season.
“It was a tough series to hit,” La Russa said. “Vargas was getting two strikes all day. To Albert, it was 0-2 and he didn’t get the ball where he wanted and Albert capitalized. He tried to go inside on Jim and he was ready. That’s really good hitting.”
Carpenter (3-1) scattered four hits and struck out four to win his second straight game.
“My stuff was good,” Carpenter said. “My curveball is the best it’s been all year. I kept the ball down and made quality pitches. In the last two games, we didn’t score too many runs so it was nice to pitch with a lead.”
Jason Isringhausen pitched the ninth inning for his fifth save in six opportunities.
The Cardinals avoided being swept for the first time this season in a three-game series on the road and improved to an NL-best 10-5 away from home. St. Louis split a six-game road trip, which began in Philadelphia.
“It’s a good sign that we got some hits today,” Edmonds said. “Chris has been pitching great all year and he had another good game today, and his shoulder is holding up and it’s good to see.”
Pujols hit a towering two-run home run, his ninth of the season, off Vargas (2-2) in the fourth to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.
“That’s what you need after tough losses to get things going,” Pujols said.
Edmonds chased Montreal’s starter in the sixth with a three-run home run, his seventh, which put St. Louis up 5-2.
Brad Wilkerson hit a home run for Montreal. The Expos fell to 5-4 at Olympic Stadium and had their season-high three-game winning streak ended.
The Expos remain tied with the 1999 team for the worst start in franchise history at 10-22.
“We have a realistic goal,” Wilkerson said. “If we get to .500 before the All-Star break, we’ll be right there. With our division being so tough, it might not even get to 90 wins this year to win the division. We’ve got some time, but we’ve got to start Tuesday (in Milwaukee), and we’ve got to win games on the road.”
Jose Vidro had three of Montreal’s five hits, including a run-scoring single to give Montreal a 1-0 lead in the third inning.
Pujols put the Cardinals up 2-1 in the fourth with a high drive over the left-field wall.
Wilkerson tied it in the bottom half with his fourth home run, his second in three games.
Carpenter and Tony Womack singled to begin the sixth, and Edmonds put St. Louis ahead for good when he slammed Vargas’ 1-2 fastball into the right-field stands.
“I tried to throw my best pitch in that situation because I was looking for a groundball for a double play,” Vargas said. “It was inside and he hit it good.”
Vargas allowed five hits and five runs in five-plus innings.