Cardinals 4, Cubs 1

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ST. LOUIS (AP) – Albert Pujols’ two-run single with the bases loaded snapped a fifth-inning tie, helping the St. Louis Cardinals grind out a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

Pujols has six RBIs in the first two games of the three-game series, including a two-run homer for his 1,000th career hit on Friday. This time it was a two-out bouncer up the middle off Scott Williamson that gave the Cardinals, swept earlier this month in Chicago, a chance to sweep the Cubs at home on Sunday.

The Cubs have lost two straight for the first time this season while totaling four runs without Derrek Lee, out at least two months with two broken bones above his right wrist. Todd Walker, who batted third in both games, singled and drew two walks Saturday before coming out in a double switch in the fifth.

Cubs catcher Michael Barrett, who has four homers and 10 RBIs against the Cardinals, pinch-hit in the ninth and flied out.

Sidney Ponson (2-0) worked through control problems for the second consecutive start, frustrating the Cubs by allowing one run on six hits and four walks in five innings. He was working on two extra days of rest for the second time this season due to days off and manager Tony La Russa’s desire to match Mark Mulder, who jumped ahead of him in the rotation on Friday, against the Pirates early next week.

Braden Looper threw two perfect innings and Jason Isringhausen got three outs for his fifth save.

A pair of two-out walks by Glendon Rusch (1-3) to eighth-place hitter So Taguchi and pinch-hitter John Rodriguez opened the door for the Cardinals’ three-run fifth. David Eckstein followed with an RBI single and Hector Luna walked on a full count to load the bases and chase Rusch.

Pujols got just enough of a 2-1 pitch to bounce it out of the grasp of shortstop Ronny Cedeno, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. Pujols, robbed of extra bases on Jacque Jones’ catch at the right-field wall in the seventh, leads the major leagues with 26 RBIs and has set a franchise record with 11 home runs in April.

Yadier Molina’s RBI double off Williamson in the sixth made it 4-1.

The Cubs took the lead on Aramis Ramirez’s RBI groundout in the third but stranded two runners in the first and third. Ponson also benefited from two double plays.

Notes: Eckstein is 8-for-16 in his last four games. … The Cardinals have outscored the opposition 23-7 in the fifth inning. … Matt Murton is 2-for-17 against St. Louis pitching. … Ponson has faced the Cubs in two of his three starts. He also lasted five innings on April 8, allowing a three-run homer to Barrett. … A crowd of 41,424 gave the Cardinals eight straight sellouts in new Busch Stadium.

AP-ES-04-22-06 1721EDT

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