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Pujols lifts Cardinals

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Albert Pujols went 4-for-5 and homered for the second straight game to lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4 Friday.

David Freese broke out of an extended slump with two hits, including a two-run homer, as St. Louis pulled into a virtual tie with the Pirates in the crowded NL Central standings.

Chris Carpenter (6-7) gave up four runs in eight innings to win his fourth straight decision for the Cardinals. Fernando Salas pitched the ninth inning to collect his 18th save.

Pittsburgh’s Paul Maholm (6-10) had won four straight games at PNC Park, but a sloppy first inning sent him to his first home loss in two months.

Blame Pujols, who looks right at home at the ballpark tucked against the Allegheny River and has had little trouble having his way with Maholm.

Pujols’ two-run shot in the first was his 27th at PNC, the most home runs he’s hit in a road venue. He later added a double off the veteran left-hander to improve to .583 lifetime (21-of-36) against him during his career.

Freese has struggled during St. Louis’ current nine-game road trip, entering the night just 2-for 22-over the first six games of the swing. He belted a two-run shot in the first to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead as Maholm struggled through his worst home start of the year.

The 29-year-old had been lights out at PNC this season and only got better as spring turned to summer. He began the night 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA over his last four home starts, 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 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 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 give the Cardinals 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.

Garrett Jones had two hits and two RBI for the Pirates, who dropped their second straight game since Tuesday, when they rose into first place this late in the season for the first time since 1992.

Mike McKenry added three hits and Andrew McCutchen and Ronny Cedeno had two hits apiece for the Pirates, who killed a pair of rallies with base-running gaffes.

Pittsburgh scored twice in the second to get on the board, but McKenry got caught between second and third after Maholm’s RBI-single to end the inning.

Jones knocked home McCutchen and Lyle Overbay in the sixth to pull the Pirates within 5-4, but was nailed trying to get to second.

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