Pujols goes 4 for 4 as Cardinals beat Brewers to avoid sweep

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals sorely needed this one, so the slugger picked a perfect time for a breakout game against the surging Milwaukee Brewers.

Pujols kicked off a 4-for-4 night with a solo homer and the Cardinals beat the Brewers 5-2 on Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.

St. Louis pulled within four games of NL Central-leading Milwaukee, which has won 13 of 15. The Cardinals are the only team to beat the Brewers during their hot streak.

Pujols almost doubled his hit total for the season against Milwaukee. The big first baseman entered with just five hits in 42 at-bats against the Cardinals' main division rival, but he put that slide behind him with a drive in the first against Yovani Gallardo (13-8).

Pujols moved into a tie with teammate Lance Berkman for the National League lead with 28 homers and added three singles to up his average to .284.

"The last couple of days, no hits," Pujols said. "Today, four hits. What did I change? Nothing.

"I'm just trying to be consistent like I have. I think anyone would love to have those numbers I have after 100-plus games."

Chris Carpenter (8-8) gave up 10 hits in eight innings, but shut down the Brewers after they scored twice in the first. Fernando Salas finished for his 22nd save in 25 opportunities.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stopped short of calling it a must-win game but was pleased with the effort.

"Do or die is the last couple of weeks when the numbers are staring you in the face," La Russa said. "There was a lot of urgency today. We beat a very good pitcher."

Mark Kotsay, subbing for All-Star slugger Ryan Braun, reached three times and had an RBI double for Milwaukee. Prince Fielder had a run-scoring single to give him 88 RBIs.

"I think we had a great road trip," Fielder said. "We had a great series here. I think we played good baseball tonight as well."

After last week's series in Milwaukee, which featured ejections and warnings for hit batters, this three-game set was fairly tame. The only thing close to an outburst came in the top of the eighth inning when all four umpires gathered briefly near third base and sent the Milwaukee bench a message.

"(There were) just some comments that were made from a couple of players," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "They were telling me to keep one of our players quiet."

Rafael Furcal got St. Louis off to a fast start with a leadoff drive to right in the first. After Gallardo fanned Jon Jay, Pujols hit a tying drive over the wall in center.

St. Louis took its first lead of the series in the third with some help from the Brewers. Second baseman Felipe Lopez booted Furcal's ground ball leading off the inning, allowing him to reach first. Furcal was forced at second by Jay, but Pujols and Berkman followed with singles to plate Jay.

That same combination worked again in the fifth when Jay singled to right with two out, stole second and scored on Pujols' single to center. Pujols moved to third on Berkman's single to right and came home on a wild pitch to make it 5-2.

"Obviously, it's a nice win," Carpenter said. "We needed this one. I went out and gave up the two early and we got the two right back and started over again. That was key."

Gallardo gave up five runs, four earned, and seven hits in five innings.

"I just left the ball up," he said. "That first inning, a curveball up in the zone (to Pujols). He's a good hitter. He's going to take advantage of those mistakes."

Game notes
Furcal's leadoff homer was the 27th of his career. ... Milwaukee will start a seven-game homestand Friday when it begins a three-game series with the Pirates. The Brewers are a major league-best 41-15 at home. ... Cardinals OF Matt Holliday was out of the lineup for a second straight game with back tightness. ... Milwaukee's Frankie De La Cruz, who was called up earlier in the day to replace Chris Narveson on the roster, pitched a scoreless seventh inning. ... Cardinals C Yadier Molina extended his hitting streak to 14 games with an eighth-inning single.