Manager Tony La Russa, brainstorming in his first night back on the job after a week's medical leave, scrapped his original lineup and crafted one that had Gold Glove first baseman Albert Pujols starting at third base for the first time since September 2002.
This meant that Nick Punto, who was at third base, would move to second base, and both Pujols and Punto excelled defensively as Jake Westbrook and two relievers pitched their way to a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Pujols had played a couple of innings at third base on May 1 but hadn't started at the position since Sept. 23, 2002. He handled five chances cleanly, including starting a double play after going to his left for a high bouncer to end the sixth and sprawling to take a hit away to start the seventh.
Punto, besides getting two singles, driving in one run and scoring another, turned in perhaps the best play of the night in the eighth. He ranged to his left to spear Jimmy Rollins' bouncer and then turned and fired to second to start a double play on the speedy Phils' leadoff man.
"That was a big-league-plus double play," said La Russa.
The original lineup, as La Russa sought to stack as many right-handers as he could against Phils left-handed ace Cliff Lee, had Allen Craig at second base, where he had made only one big-league start, and La Russa said he didn't feel comfortable with that.
And Pujols had volunteered to play third, an action that thoroughly impressed La Russa. "I've repeated it for 10 years and now we're on 11. This guy's so special. Whenever he does something that's extra special, I point it out," said La Russa.
"He volunteers to play third base. There are other stars who would do that. But I don't know if there are that many. Albert is very special."
Craig wound up in right field and Lance Berkman at first base, where he was replaced by Pujols for the ninth inning.
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