CINCINNATI -- Albert Pujols is looking awfully healthy these days.
The former MVP hit a three-run homer -- his second in two days -- and Chris Carpenter stymied the NL's most prolific offense again, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.
Pujols connected in the fifth inning off Bronson Arroyo (7-8), who gives up the most homers in the NL. It was Pujols' 20th homer overall and his third since returning from a broken left wrist that cost him only two weeks.
"At the end of the season, he's going to be somewhere near his career averages for everything," manager Tony La Russa said. "The only thing is he missed two weeks, so he might have a little less of this or that. But he's the Albert he's been the last 10 years."
Arroyo didn't want to walk Pujols and load the bases for Matt Holliday, and ended up leaving a 2-1 pitch too far over the plate.
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"I threw him a changeup down that I've gotten him with in the past," Arroyo said. "A lot of times, he'll ground it foul. This time, it got too much of the plate."
Carpenter (5-7) was the same way he's been against Cincinnati the last few years. He allowed Joey Votto's RBI single in eight innings, improving to 14-4 career against the Reds. He's won 12 of his last 13 decisions against Cincinnati.
His grittiest moment came in the eighth, when the Cardinals committed a pair of errors to leave runners on second and third with two outs. Carpenter fanned Chris Heisey on a slow breaking ball -- his 116th pitch -- then pumped his arms in celebration.
"I just get excited when I go out there," Carpenter said. "It's a competitive game. They're a quality club. I was able to make a pitch to get out of that jam."
Another sellout crowd was hoping for a second straight Reds comeback. Instead, Fernando Salas -- who gave up Brandon Phillips' game-ending homer on Friday -- finished them off, getting his 17th save in 20 chances.
Jon Jay had three hits, including a run-scoring single in the seventh off Arroyo. The right-hander gave up eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, remaining winless in three July starts.
The Reds lead the season series 6-5, which includes a rare victory over Carpenter. The right-hander won 10 straight decisions against the Reds before May 15, when the Reds scored eight runs off him for a 9-7 win in Cincinnati that snapped his streak. During that game, Carpenter was annoyed when fireworks smoke lingered over the infield after the celebration of Ramon Hernandez's homer.
When he came to bat for the first time on Saturday, the Reds' public address system reminded him of the moment, playing The Platters' version of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." The Reds usually don't play music when opponents come to bat. Carpenter paused and appeared to smile briefly, but later said he wasn't paying attention to the music.
There would be no fireworks this time. Carpenter gave up seven hits and fanned seven.
"Here he is in 2011 stepping up huge when we need him the most," La Russa said. "In the eighth inning, he reached so deep to get the last three outs. He's very special, and we're lucky to have had him over the years."
Knowing they have trouble scoring off Carpenter, the Reds got a little reckless on the bases while trying to force the issue. Heisey was caught in a rundown between second and third, and Drew Stubbs got doubled up at second base on a flyout.
Votto singled home a run in the third for a 1-0 lead, but the inning ended up as a huge disappointment for the Reds. For the second straight night, they ended up wasting a chance to blow the game open. Carpenter's throwing error let Cincinnati load the bases with one out, but the right-hander got Jay Bruce to ground into a rally-killing double play.
The Cardinals overcame it with one emphatic swing from their quick-healing first baseman.
Pujols returned from a broken left wrist on July 5 after missing only 13 games. He hit only one more homer before the All-Star break, but appears to be back in the swing. He hit a two-run homer in the Reds' 6-5 win on Friday night -- Heisey snatched another away at the top of the wall in center field.
He connected in the fifth off Arroyo, extending his hitting streak to four games, a sign he's back in form. He also made a spinning, over-the-shoulder catch of Jonny Gomes' foul in the seventh.
It was a familiar finish for Arroyo, who can't seem to avoid the home run. He has given up 26 this season, accounting for 40 of the 75 runs he's allowed.
- The Cardinals committed three errors, one shy of their season high.
- 3B Nick Punto sailed a throw for one of the errors, alarming La Russa. Punto was on the DL last month with a strained right forearm. "You see him make that throw, he's got it in the back of his mind or there's something there," La Russa said. "So I think we need to replace him, and that's not good for our club because a healthy Punto has so much value to us."
- Holliday went 0 for 3, ending his hitting streak at seven games.
- Carpenter doubled in the fifth inning. Three of his five hits this season are doubles.
- Arroyo is 0-4 in his last six starts against the Cardinals, giving up 26 earned runs in 34 1/3 innings.