Pujols' double play kills Cards rally
MILWAUKEE—Albert Pujols had the pitch he wanted, ready to give the St. Louis Cardinals the big hit they always expect. Instead, he failed to deliver in a result that's become far-too-familar this year.
With St. Louis trailing by three runs in the seventh inning, Pujols grounded into a double play with runners at the corners and no outs, thwarting a rally attempt in a 9-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in Sunday's NL championship series opener.
"I had a good pitch to hit, man. I just missed it," Pujols said. "You throw me that pitch, I bet you seven out of 10 times you throw that, I put it in the seats. It is what it is. It's baseball. You're going to get opportunities and, hopefully, I come through."
The three-time NL MVP has just one RBI in six playoff games after grounding into a major league-leading 29 double plays during the regular season.
St. Louis wasted a 5-2, fifth-inning lead and was trailing 8-5 when Rafael Furcal chased Zack Greinke with a leadoff single in the seventh. Jon Jay's hit-and-run single off Takashi Saito advanced Furcal to third.
Ahead 2-0 in the count, Pujols fouled off a pitch and checked his swing on the next as umpire Gary Darling called a low strike. Pujols appeared rankled, looking upward, muttering and stepping out of the batter's box.
Pujols pulled Saito's next pitch down the third-base line, breaking his bat and sending shards flying nearly as far as the ball. Jerry Hairston Jr. scooped up the ball, starting a 5-4-3 double play as Furcal came home.
"It was not a good game for him today, but you can't say anything," Furcal said. "He's going to produce. Everybody knows in the world he's a pretty good hitter and what he can do."
Lance Berkman followed with a popup, and the Cardinals didn't advance another runner past first.
Game 2 is Monday night, when Edwin Jackson faces Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum.
Given the three-run lead, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia allowed a two-run double to Ryan Braun and a two-run homer to Prince Fielder on consecutive pitches in the fifth. Braun also hit a 463-foot, two-run homer in the first after Hairston walked.
Garcia insisted Saturday he would not be thinking about letting the Brewers' biggest stars beat him. A day later, Braun and Fielder drove in all six runs Garcia allowed.
"It was just bam, bam, bam," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It's unusual for a guy throwing the ball that well to miss. He's probably upset. Human nature."
Reliever Octavio Dotel made a throwing error that allowed Rickie Weeks to reach, and Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run homer made it 8-5.
After Braun's first-inning homer put Milwaukee ahead 2-1, the Cardinals went ahead on David Freese's three-run homer in the fourth. Berkman added an RBI single in the fifth.
"We've lost some tough games, and we bounced back," Pujols said. "We did it against Philly. We did it the last two weeks of the season when we needed a win, I mean, we're too good of a ballclub. This is a long series."
Milwaukee and St. Louis split 18 games during the regular season in one of baseball's most intense rivalries in recent years.
Nyjer Morgan took to his Twitter account and referred to Pujols as "Alberta." Greinke said Saturday that some of his teammates don't like Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter because of his demonstrative demeanor on the mound, saying he had a "phony attitude."
La Russa was booed heavily in pregame introductions, and responded by tipping his cap to the crowd.
"I'd be willing to challenge anybody here to show me one division that didn't have one or two sparks. We play each other 15, 16, 17, 18 times," La Russa said. "We just play each other, and everybody reads the situation their way."
After Braun's homer, Fielder was hit by Garcia's next pitch, though it didn't appear to be intentional as Garcia struggled with his command early. Darling warned both benches immediately, and there was no other trouble.
"I don't want our players and their players to be egged on, and I don't think they will," La Russa said. "We're going to play as hard and good against each other as we can."
NOTES: The Cardinals led the majors by grounding into 169 double plays during the regular season. They have four in the playoffs. ... Jackson allowed 10 runs -- eight earned -- in seven innings of his first start against Milwaukee this season with the Cardinals on Aug. 3 because La Russa needed to rest his bullpen. Jackson jokingly said, "What game?" when asked to recall it. ... The next two starts against the Brewers, he went 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA. ... Marcum is 0-3 with a 5.84 ERA in his last six home starts, including two against the Cardinals.