Pujols stops St. Louis skid; Martinez tagged again

Thursday, September 28th 2006, 5:12 am
By: News On 6

Albert Pujols stopped St. Louis' slide in time to keep the Cardinals on top of the NL Central. Pedro Martinez is still struggling, though, and the New York Mets might not get much from him this October.

Always counted on for big hits, Pujols delivered a blow Wednesday night that could end up saving his team's season.

The reigning NL MVP hit a go ahead, 3 run homer with 2 outs in the 8th inning that sent St. Louis to a 4-2 victory over the visiting San Diego Padres, ending a 7 game skid during which the Cardinals' division lead shriveled to 1 1/2 games.

``We don't need to play a catch-up game here, somebody had to catch us,'' Pujols said. ``It's tough with that 7 game losing streak, but it stops here.''

Houston stayed only 1 1/2 games back with 4 to play by rallying from 5 runs down to win 7-6 in 15 innings at Pittsburgh, its eighth straight win. The surging Astros didn't gain any ground for the first time during their winning streak, but they didn't lose any, either.

St. Louis' magic number for winning its third consecutive NL Central championship is 4.

``We have to plan to win 'em all and still it may be not enough, but the bottom line is everybody is still playing,'' Houston manager Phil Garner said.

Martinez is still pitching, too, but not very well.

The 3 time Cy Young Award winner was rocked again in his final start of the regular season for the NL East champs, giving up 8 hits, 7 runs and 2 homers in 2 2-3 innings of a 13-1 loss in Atlanta.

Slowed by an ailing calf, Martinez said he's got no confidence in his pitches and all but conceded he won't start Game 1 of the playoffs next week, if he's able to pitch at all in the opening round.

``I've worked hard to try and get back, but obviously I'm not 100 percent,'' Martinez said. ``I don't feel healthy.''

In other NL games, it was: Los Angeles 6, Colorado 4; Philadelphia 8, Washington 7 in 14 innings; Florida 7, Cincinnati 2; Arizona 6, San Francisco 3; and Chicago 3, Milwaukee 2.

The Mets, who wrapped up the NL East title with nearly 2 weeks left in the regular season, have dropped 4 straight and 7 of 8. New York lost the first 2 games of its series at Turner Field by a combined score of 25-1.

Atlanta tagged the Mets for 5 homers, including 2 by Jeff Francoeur, and twice went deep on back to back hitters.

Martinez (9-8), who recently spent a month on the disabled list with a strained right calf, took his third straight loss since being activated and fourth in a row overall. He has a 16.97 ERA over his last 4 starts, giving up 22 hits and 20 earned runs in 11 2-3 innings.

``Obviously, he didn't pitch too well,'' Mets manager Willie Randolph said. ``We'll have to wait and see.''

But Martinez didn't sound optimistic.

``The way it's looking right now, Willie will not have a tough decision about who should pitch Game 1,'' he said. ``Obviously, the other guys are in better shape than I am. It would be a bad decision for Willie to put me out there from what he's seen.''

Martinez even mentioned that he's ready to accept a reduced role in the postseason.

``I hope I'll be healthy enough to pitch in relief,'' he said. ``Maybe I'll be able to go 2 or 3 innings.''

At St. Louis, Pujols hit a 1-0 pitch from Cla Meredith into the 3rd of 4 decks over the left field wall to erase a 1 run deficit.

So Taguchi drew a leadoff walk against Scott Linebrink (7-4) and Aaron Miles walked with 1 out before Pujols greeted Meredith, who entered the game with a 0.72 ERA, with his 47th home run.

Of those, 19 have accounted for the game winning RBI. That ties Willie Mays (1962) for the highest single season total in data that goes back to 1957.

``You work on a zero for a while and it gets tougher and tougher to win one,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ``It's very important in a lot of ways.''

San Diego's lead in the NL West dropped to 1 game over Los Angeles, with 4 remaining.

Astros 7, Pirates 6, 15 innings

At Pittsburgh, Brad Ausmus' sacrifice fly in the 15th sent Houston to another victory. Chris Sampson (2-0) pitched 2 2-3 scoreless innings for the win, and Trever Miller got one out for the save.

Lance Berkman hit his 44th homer for the Astros, who tied it on Luke Scott's 2 out single in the 9th inning.

Dodgers 6, Rockies 4

At Denver, Derek Lowe (16-8) won his seventh straight decision and earned his 100th career victory. Los Angeles held onto its 1 game lead over Philadelphia in the wild card race by overcoming a 3 run deficit.

Phillies 8, Nationals 7, 14 innings

At Washington, Jimmy Rollins hit a 2 run triple with 2 outs in the 14th and the Phillies hung on in a back and forth game to keep pace in the wild card race. Chase Utley got his 200th hit and 100th RBI.

Marlins 7, Reds 2

At Miami, Anibal Sanchez (10-3) became the fourth Florida to win at least 10 games, and Hanley Ramirez hit 2 home runs, 1 an inside the-park shot. The Reds dropped 3 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central and had their 3 game winning streak snapped.

The Marlins are the first team in major league history to have 4 rookie pitchers with 10 wins, Sanchez, Scott Olsen (12-9), Josh Johnson (12-7) and Ricky Nolasco (11-10).

Diamondbacks 6, Giants 3

At San Francisco, Eric Byrnes hit a 2 run homer and Arizona won its final road game of the season. Claudio Vargas (12-10) pitched 6 2-3 strong innings.

Cubs 3, Brewers 2

At Chicago, Henry Blanco singled home the winning run in the 9th after pinch hitter Freddie Bynum came through with a tying homer off Francisco Cordero (3-1).