ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols’ two-run homer snapped a seventh-inning tie, helping the surging St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 on Wednesday night.
Kelly Stinnett drove in his first run of the season subbing for Gary Bennett, out of the lineup as a precaution after getting beaned by Aaron Harang on Tuesday. David Eckstein added two hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who have won six of seven and pulled five games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
This is the closest the defending World Series champions have been to first place since April 29, the day before reliever Josh Hancock died in an auto accident. They were 10 games back on May 21.
Pujols’ 12th homer and third in three games came on a 1-2 pitch from Bronson Arroyo (2-7), who is 0-5 in six starts since his last victory on May 6, and the 413-foot drive to left-center put the Cardinals ahead 6-4.
Ryan Ludwick had tied the game with his first career pinch-hit homer. He is 5-for-9 as a pinch hitter after his homer off Arroyo with one out in the seventh. He has 15 career homers, with the last also coming against the Reds on May 22, 2005 at Cincinnati while with the Indians.
Cardinals starter Brad Thompson lasted six innings, giving up four runs and seven hits. He’s 3-2 with a 4.50 in six starts after taking over the injured Chris Carpenter’s spot in the rotation.
Tyler Johnson (1-0) worked a scoreless seventh and Jason Isringhausen got the last three outs for his 14th save in 15 chances.
DRAFT: Flexibility will be a key on draft day for the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the 18th overall pick on Thursday.
The defending World Series champions are prepared for almost anything. Jeff Luhnow, vice president of amateur scouting and player development, said the team has 14 players it would be happy to take. They’re fairly confident the list is long enough to ensure success, given varying philosophies around major league baseball.
“I think if we took our draft board and compared it to the other 29 clubs, and every scouting director would like to do that experiment, I think there would be less agreement than you might think,” Luhnow said. “We may have five college position players in the top 30 and another club may have one.”
The Cardinals have shown in recent seasons that they’re willing to judge the talent on a year by year basis rather than emphasize either college or high school talent. Last June they selected college pitcher Adam Ottavino with the final pick of the first round, then followed up with two more college players, pitcher Christopher Perez and outfielder Jonathan Jay, with their next two selections.
In 2005, six high school players were among their top 10 picks. That list includes first-rounder Colby Rasmus, their top overall minor league prospect at Double-A Springfield and the heir apparent to Jim Edmonds in center field.
MULDER’S RETURN UNCERTAIN: Mark Mulder says the St. Louis Cardinals should not count on him coming to the rescue in the second half of the season.
The left-hander, who is rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery in September, threw off the mound for the first time since then on Tuesday. The team had hoped he would return around the All-Star break, but after the session he was more pessimistic, saying there’s a chance he won’t be back until next season.
“It could be August, it could be September, it could be April,” Mulder said. “I couldn’t begin to tell you when it might be.”
The team was more optimistic. Manager Tony La Russa didn’t see the session, but said pitching coach Dave Duncan was impressed even though Mulder told the manager it “wasn’t one of his best.”
“So that makes it even better,” La Russa said.