Pujols ends longest HR drought, Cards beat Pads

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols watches his sixth-inning home run against the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Monday, May 23, 2011 in San Diego.

St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols watches his sixth-inning home run against the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Monday, May 23, 2011 in San Diego. Photo by The Associated Press.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — One ball left the yard and another one didn’t, both providing highlights for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Albert Pujols hit his first homer in 106 at-bats to end the longest drought of his career and the NL Central-leading Cardinals scored two runs off Heath Bell in the ninth to beat the struggling San Diego Padres 3-1 on Monday night, their seventh win in eight games.

Colby Rasmus robbed former teammate Ryan Ludwick of a home run to end the first inning, providing another frustrating Petco Park moment for the Padres, who have lost six of seven and dropped to 8-19 at home, the worst mark in the NL.

Pujols came into the game without a homer in 103 at-bats. He flied out to the warning track in center field in his first at-bat, then flied out to right-center in his second at-bat.

He didn’t miss in his next at-bat, driving a 1-2 pitch from Dustin Moseley into the first row in left field over a desperation leap by Ludwick for a 1-0 lead with one out in the sixth. It was his eighth.

Pujols has seven homers in 88 at-bats at Petco Park and five homers in his last 11 games in San Diego.

“One run,” manager Tony La Russa said. “You know what had more value? It’s the worst ball he hit. You watch, he’s making contact like that. He might not have the first 10 days of the season. After that he’s made contact. He just keeps hitting it hard. They’re pitching him like he’s hitting .350, so every at-bat’s a tough one for him.”

San Diego catcher Rob Johnson said it wasn’t a bad pitch. “It might not have been ideal but that’s why he is such a great player,” Johnson said. “You have to be careful with him.”

La Russa was ejected by plate umpire Jim Joyce after Pujols took a called third strike for the second out of the eighth inning.

Pujols took a step toward first base after Mike Adams’ 3-2 pitch at the knees, then turned and jumped in frustration after Joyce punched him out. La Russa came out to get the slugger and as he turned toward the dugout, said something to Joyce and was ejected.

It was La Russa’s eighth game back since missing six games to be treated for shingles.

“It’s not even worth talking about,” La Russa said. “I just went out there to save Albert. We need him in the game. I ran out there. I said to him, ’Hey, you’re better than that.’ I’ve known Jim a long time. He said, ’You’re out of here; you can’t say anything.’ I said, ’That’s pretty tame.’ He’s the umpire. If I was the umpire, I probably would have ejected me, too.”

Rasmus made a great leaping grab to rob Ludwick of a home run to straightaway center field for the final out of the first. Ludwick rounded second and stared at Rasmus, his former St. Louis teammate, as if to say, “Are you kidding?”

“I just read it off the bat, ran back, seen the wall and jumped up and caught it. Not much thinking to it. Just instincts.”

Rasmus didn’t show the ball or hold it up. He just ran off the field.

“It was kind of weird. Everybody was looking at me and I wasn’t really thinking about showing the ball. Nobody could tell, I guess. Luddy was just staring me down. I felt kind of bad. I think he’d show me the same respect and try to rob one if I hit it, too. He wouldn’t let it go.”

Said winning pitcher Kyle Lohse: “That was a big pickup right there for Colby, a game-changer right there. He did a great job, and after that I wasn’t going to hang too many sliders.”

Padres pinch-hitter Jorge Cantu hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1 in the seventh. San Diego had runners on first and third and no outs after Chase Headley hit a leadoff double and advanced on Cameron Maybin’s bunt for a single. Orlando Hudson grounded to Pujols, who threw home to catch Headley in a rundown, which moved Maybin to third.

The Cardinals broke through against Bell (2-1) in the ninth. Skip Schumaker hit a one-out double to right and scored on Daniel Descalso’s single to medium right. Chris Denorfia’s throw was up the first-base line. Ryan Theriot hit a two-out single to bring in Descalso.

“I don’t think there is a frustration level for the ballclub,” Bell said. “For me, for not doing my job, the frustration level is high. The other 24 guys on the team did their job.”

Lohse (6-2) held the Padres to one run and five hits in eight innings, struck out five and walked one. Fernando Salas got the final two outs for his eighth save in as many chances.

Moseley allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, struck out three and walked three.

The loss came hours after the light-hitting Padres shook up their lineup by demoting leadoff batter Will Venable to Triple-A Tucson.

NOTES: Denorfia moved into Venable’s starting spot in RF. To take Venable’s spot on the 25-man roster, the Padres purchased the contract of Blake Tekotte from Double-A San Antonio. RHP Samuel Deduno was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Tekotte. ... Pujols has 20 homers and 63 RBIs in 69 career games against San Diego.

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