Pujols' two-run homer snapped a seventh-inning tie, helping his surging team beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 on Wednesday night. The Cardinals (26-30) have won six of seven and pulled five games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
"You look at our record and say 'Wow, it's a terrible season,"' Pujols said. "We knew the whole year wasn't going to be the way we started. We knew everything was going to click."
Kelly Stinnett drove in his first run of the season subbing for Gary Bennett, out of the lineup as a precaution after getting beaned by Aaron Harang on Tuesday. David Eckstein added two hits and an RBI for the Cardinals.
This is the closest the defending World Series champions have been to first place since April 29, the day before reliever Josh Hancock died in an auto accident. They were 10 games back on May 21.
"We're trying to sniff .500 and we're still four under," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's our only goal right now, to be a winning club."
Scott Hatteberg homered off the foul pole in right and drove in two runs for the Reds, who have lost four straight and 11 of 15.
"I made some mistakes that hurt me," losing pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "All of their runs were scored on mistake pitches."
Pujols' 12th homer and third in three games came on a 1-2 pitch from Arroyo (2-7), who is 0-5 in six starts since his last victory on May 6, and the 413-drive to left-center put the Cardinals ahead 6-4. Arroyo squandered a 4-1 fifth-inning lead, giving up six runs in 6 2/3 innings. He's 0-3 with a 13.25 ERA in his last four outings.
"My stuff has been about the same all year," Arroyo said. "I'm just not getting the job done, plain and simple."
Pujols is batting .444 (16-for-36) in his last nine home games, and has average up to .292.
"I told you guys early in April and I told you guys two weeks ago 'Talk to me in September,"' Pujols said to reporters. "If my numbers are terrible, I'll say 'Wow, it was a tough season."'
Ryan Ludwick had tied the game with his first career pinch-hit homer. He is 5-for-9 as a pinch hitter after his homer off Arroyo with one out in the seventh. He has 15 career homers, with the last also coming against the Reds on May 22, 2005 at Cincinnati while with the Indians.
"It's been a while since I hit a homer, and it always feels good to contribute to a win," Ludwick said. "So, a good day."
Just as important, the Cardinals are 5-1 with Thompson on the mound.
"I think everybody has a meeting before I pitch and goes, 'Hey, Brad's going to need these runs so let's go get some,"' Thompson said. "Everybody's been swinging the bat great and giving me a lot of support."
Tyler Johnson (1-0) worked a scoreless seventh and Jason Isringhausen got the last three outs for his 14th save in 15 chances. Isringhausen made a nice barehanded stab of pinch hitter Jeff Conine's comebacker for the second out of the ninth.
Scott Rolen doubled, stole third and scored on Juan Encarnacion's sacrifice fly to put St. Louis ahead in the second. Hatteberg, who batted leadoff for the fourth time this season, hit his sixth of the year to tie it in the third.
Hatteberg had a sacrifice fly and Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn had RBI doubles in a three-run fifth that put the Reds ahead 4-1. Stinnett had a run-scoring single and Eckstein had an RBI double in the fifth to close the deficit to a run.
- The Cardinals have a major league-low 15 steals and have been thrown out 12 times after Rolen's successful steal of third in the second inning.
- Hatteberg's homer was the first allowed by Thompson in his last three starts.
- Rolen, who missed four games with a strained right hamstring, had two hits and is 14-for-29 in his last nine games.
- David Ross was 0-for-3 and is hitless in his last 16 at-bats.