ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols has a nice head start in his quest for a second consecutive MVP season. He gave the St. Louis Cardinals a nice head start on another victory.
Pujols hit his major league-leading 12th home run in the first inning and Chris Carpenter beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the sixth consecutive time in St. Louis' 7-2 victory Monday night. Pujols has three first-inning homers, two in the last four days.
"It's always big to take the lead," Pujols said. "You send a message right away that we're ready to play."
Pujols added a run-scoring double for his 28th RBI, also tops in the majors, to help send the Pirates to their fifth loss in a row. So Taguchi had three hits and two RBI and Hector Luna had a pair of RBI singles for the Cardinals, who have won four of five.
Jason Bay hit his fifth homer for the Pirates, who have lost 10 of their last 11 on the road and sit at the bottom of the NL with a 5-16 record.
"It's been going like that for a while, pretty much since Day 1," Jeromy Burnitz said.
Pujols' shot off Oliver Perez (1-3) left him one homer shy of the major league record for April shared by Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) and Luis Gonzalez (2001) with six games left.
Carpenter (3-1) prevailed without his best stuff, working around eight hits, a walk and a hit batter in six innings, with three strikeouts. His run of 15 consecutive scoreless innings ended on Bay's homer leading off the fourth and the Pirates strung together four consecutive two-out hits later in the inning, including an RBI single by Humberto Cota.
"I was up in the strike zone more than I've been," Carpenter said. "When you're up in the strike zone, they're going to put good swings on the ball.
"It was a battle all night, but I was able to get through it and win."
Carpenter held the Pirates to two hits in eight scoreless innings in his last start and is 7-1 with a 2.66 ERA for his career against them. Bay's homer was only the third he's allowed against Pittsburgh in 64 1/3 innings.
The Pirates suspect they're not alone considering Carpenter was 21-5 last year and won the NL Cy Young Award.
"He executed about three or four different pitches and throws them where he wants to throw them," Burnitz said. "I don't think that's going to be any different against us."
Perez lasted five innings and gave up seven runs, five earned, and 10 hits. The Pirates' nominal ace is saddled with a 7.20 ERA.
Pujols hit an 0-1 knee-high fastball from Perez over the left-field wall with two outs in the first. RBI singles from Luna and Taguchi, plus a squeeze bunt by David Eckstein, made it a 4-0 cushion in the second.
Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth barely missed a diving catch on Pujols' RBI double in the fifth on a ball off the end of his bat. A dropped popup by second baseman Sanchez later in the inning after first baseman Wilson banged into him near the mound, led to a pair of unearned runs on RBI singles by Luna and Taguchi.
"Let's put it this way: We had an opportunity," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "But we shot ourselves in the foot with the miscue."
- Scott Rolen doubled off the top of the wall for the second game in a row, barely missing a homer to center on Sunday and left on Monday. After that double in the fourth, he had four doubles in five at-bats.
- The Pirates are 0-14 when trailing after six innings, 0-15 when trailing after seven and 0-16 when trailing after eight.
- The Cardinals are 27-10 against the Pirates the last three seasons and 22-5 in the last 27 meetings.
- The Pirates haven't won consecutive games in St. Louis since May 2003. They won their final game at old Busch Stadium last September and this was their first game at new Busch.
- Bay is 9-for-23 with four homers and eight RBI in his last five games against the Cardinals.
- During their five-game losing streak, the Pirates have been outscored 24-6.