Pujols' homer knocks out Cubs as Cards complete three-game sweep

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols ended a five-game RBI drought in spectacular fashion, lining a first-inning homer that knocked out the "I" on the Big Mac Land sign in left field.

"It's cool doing things like that," Pujols said. "But you know what, you take a home run no matter what, and to take the lead early it's big."

Adam Wainwright took it from there, coming within an out of the St. Louis Cardinals' second complete game during a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in a 3-1 victory Thursday night. The Cardinals had two complete games all last season.

"Honestly, I felt stronger as I went," Wainwright said. "I feel like I could still be out there pitching, and I think they probably read that."

Wainwright (4-2) allowed five hits in 8 2-3 innings, striking out seven with one walk before Ryan Franklin got Milton Bradley to line out with a man on for his 11th save in 12 chances. The Cubs were limited to two runs in the series while batting .154, have lost four in a row for the second time this season and also have dropped five of six to the Cardinals.

"If we pitch like this the rest of the year, we'll be very happy," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. "If we hit like this the rest of the year, we'll be very sad."

Joel Pineiro threw a three-hitter in a 3-0 victory in the series opener Tuesday and Chris Carpenter worked five scoreless innings on Wednesday in a 2-1 decision.

"You start a series off like that, you send your team a message," Wainwright said. "We played a really bad series against Milwaukee, top to bottom, and we came back and beat a really good team. Kudos to the whole team for not hanging their heads."

Brian Barden also homered and Colby Rasmus had an RBI single for the Cardinals, who handled their biggest rivals right after getting swept by the Brewers. The Cardinals swept the Cubs in a three-game series for the first time since August 25-27, 2006.

"You know what they say about the stock market, you're looking for a bottom," Piniella said. "Well, hopefully we've found the bottom here in St. Louis."

Wainwright was hurt only by Kosuke Fukudome's RBI single in the sixth. He retired the Cubs in order five times with two of his strikeouts against leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano. He's allowed two runs in 16 2-3 innings his last two starts after lowering his arm slot, losing 1-0 to the Brewers' Jeff Suppan in his last outing.

Wainwright is 2-0 in three starts against the Cubs this season.

Soriano was 1 for 12 with six strikeouts in the series. Ryan Theriot was 1 for 11, and Mike Fontenot and Milton Bradley each went 1 for 10. Piniella said he'd probably bench Fontenot, who's in a 2-for-39 slump that's dropped his average to .195.

"We've kept him in there and everything else," Piniella said. "I don't know, maybe it's just defeating the purpose. Maybe we'll just sit him for a while and see."

Pujols hit a 1-1 pitch from Sean Marshall (2-3) with two outs in the first for his 14th homer and sixth in the first inning, to end his longest RBI drought of the year.

"You need to struggle so you can get better," Pujols said. "You can talk to Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, probably (Muhammad) Ali. He didn't struggle that much, but he lost some fights."

Barden, who's 5 for 6 against Marshall connected off a hanging breaking ball with one out in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.

Marshall made his first start in 11 days and allowed two earned runs in five innings. Third baseman Ryan Freel's throwing error led to an unearned run in the third.

Game notes
The Cardinals are 17-16 against the Cubs at 4-year-old Busch Stadium. ... The Cubs have scored four or more runs in all 21 wins and three or fewer in 15 of their 18 losses. ... Yadier Molina is in a 3-for-26 slump. ... Entering the game, Marshall had held the top three hitters in the lineup to a .178 average (8 for 45) with one RBI. The Cardinals were 2 for 8 with two RBIs. ... The Cubs previously lost four in a row from April 22-25.