Cardinals 8, Reds 7

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ST. LOUIS – Albert Pujols’ third home run of the game, a tiebreaking two-run shot in the ninth inning, gave the St. Louis Cardinals an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Pujols’ eighth homer came on a 1-2 pitch from David Weathers (0-1) and traveled an estimated 441 feet to left, ending a topsy-turvy game that featured five lead changes. His second career three-homer game and sixth career game-ending homer topped off a 4-2 opening homestand at new Busch Stadium, and he matched career highs with five RBIs and four runs scored.

Pitcher Jason Marquis, who hit .310 last year with a homer and 10 RBIs, led off the ninth with a pinch single. The only doubt on Pujols’ blast was whether it would stay fair, and it ended up about 10 feet fair and in the second deck.

Rich Aurilia’s two-run double in the eighth, one batter after right fielder Juan Encarnacion botched a potential double-play flyout when he dropped the ball, had put the Reds in front. Aurilia had three hits and Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns homered on consecutive at-bats in the fifth for the Reds.

Pujols and Scott Rolen connected on consecutive at-bats in the bottom of the fifth for the Cardinals. Pujols has 14 career multihomer games and two this season, hitting two on opening day in Philadelphia.

Mark Mulder and Bronson Arroyo, pitchers who have combined to hit three homers this season, gave up two long balls apiece and failed to get the ball out of the infield in their at-bats. Both labored through five shaky innings.

John Rodriguez added a two-run triple for the Cardinals, who sold out their first six games at their new $365 million ballpark.

Dunn hit a two-run shot on a full count with two outs in the fourth for his seventh homer. He had five hits on the Reds’ trip, all of them homers, going 5-for-21 with 10 strikeouts. Kearns, who is 8-for-17 in his last four games with two homers and seven RBIs, also connected on a full count for his fourth homer and a 4-2 lead for the Reds.

The Reds victimized three pitchers in the eighth, with Quinton McCracken’s leadoff pinch homer coming off Adam Wainwright and Aurilia’s double coming against Braden Looper (1-0).

Both teams were again without their starting center fielders. Jim Edmonds missed his second game with right shoulder soreness after receiving a cortisone shot on Friday night, and Ken Griffey Jr. missed his fourth straight start for the Reds with stiffness in his right knee.

Arroyo, the first pitcher in major league history to hit a homer and earn a victory in his first two starts, labored for 94 pitches and is 0-2 with an 8.55 ERA in six career appearances against St. Louis. He allowed five runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts and was hitless in two at-bats.

Notes: Dunn and Kearns were the last duo to hit consecutive homers against the Cardinals, doing it in the regular-season finale at old Busch Stadium on Oct. 2, 2005. … Mulder took a grounder off his right knee on a comebacker in the fourth and limped around for a few minutes before resuming.

AP-ES-04-16-06 1743EDT

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