PITTSBURGH -- Paul Maholm put the pitch where he wanted.
So did Albert Pujols.
Pujols hit a two-run shot off Maholm in the first to give the Cardinals the lead and continue his dominance at PNC Park.
The homer was the 27th Pujols has mashed at the decade-old ballpark tucked against the Allegheny River, the most he's hit anywhere outside of St. Louis. He's particularly locked in when Maholm is on the hill. He went 2 for 3 against Maholm on Friday and is now batting .583 (21 for 36) against the veteran left-hander for his career.
|More on Cardinals at Pirates|
"It doesn't matter if I have good success against a guy or no -- I take every at-bat like it's my last at-bat of my career, believe it or not," Pujols said.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, Pujols isn't going anywhere, though Maholm was hardly apologetic for challenging the first baseman instead of pitching around him.
"He's a good hitter, I'm going to be aggressive," Maholm said. "I'm going to come in and hitters are going to get their hits and I'm going to stick with my game plan."
David Freese added a two-run shot of his own in the first, though Maholm (6-10) settled down to last six innings, giving up five runs on 10 hits, striking out two and walking two.
"I thought he made some adjustments the deeper he got into the game," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "I thought he got much better rhythm, much better tempo, much better location."
Just not enough to prevent the Pirates from falling for the second straight game and drop into a virtual tie with the Cardinals in the crowded NL Central race. Pittsburgh (51-46) leads St. Louis (52-47) by .01 percentage points, .526 to .525.
The Pirates had their chances but kept running themselves out of potential big innings. Mike McKenry was nabbed between second and third on Maholm's RBI-single to end the second and Garrett Jones was nailed trying to stretch his two-run single into a double in the sixth.
"Against a guy like Carpenter you don't want to make outs on the bases and we fell into the category twice tonight," Hurdle said.
Maholm has been outstanding at home this year and came into the game 4-0 in his last four starts with a 1.04 ERA, one of the main reasons why Pittsburgh has found itself in a pennant race for the first time in nearly 20 years.
He still, however, doesn't have an answer for Pujols. Then again, not many pitchers do.
"[Pujols] is going to put the barrel on it and he can ride," Hurdle said. "He can square up a lot of different pitches."
Pujols has gotten off to a slow start since his return from the disabled list earlier this month, but appears to be heating up.
He hit a two-run shot in the first on Thursday to spark the Cardinals past the New York Mets and wasted little time getting to work against Maholm, taking the first pitch he saw and sending it into the right-field seats to stake the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead.
Three batters and five pitches later Freese put St. Louis up 4-0 after his fly ball to right field sailed into the muggy night and just over the wall.
The game is the fourth in the midst of an important two-week stretch for Pittsburgh. The Pirates took two of three from Cincinnati earlier in the week and were hoping to make a statement in front of a packed house.
Though they busted out of a slump that plagued them against the Reds -- when they managed four runs in three games -- they couldn't keep up with St. Louis, which pounded out 15 hits, including a solo shot by Yadier Molina in the eighth off reliever Chris Resop that provided the final margin.
It was just enough to let Carpenter improve to 3-0 in July.
""It was a battle all night," Carpenter said. "There's no question I didn't have my best stuff but I was able to throw pitches when I had to."
- St. Louis P Kyle Lohse will make his regularly scheduled start on Sunday after an MRI revealed no significant damage to the middle finger of his pitching hand.
- The game marked the 11th sellout at PNC Park this year, the most since the ballpark's inaugural season in 2001.
- The game was delayed 30 minutes by rain.