ST. LOUIS - It has become positively Mark McGwire-ish here. Flash bulbs flared with virtually every pitch Albert Pujols saw on Saturday, and he and his St. Louis teammates made plenty of Kodak moments.
Pujols hit his major leagueleading 19th home run and drove in three runs to increase his major league-high total to 47 when the Cardinals ruined Claudio Vargas’ perfect road start with a 9-1 victory over the Diamondbacks before 40,585 at new Busch Stadium.
Pujols’ bases-empty homer in the second inning came in the Cardinals’ 37th game, making him the fastest to 19 homers in major league history.
Mickey Mantle and Luis Gonzalez held the previous record, 40 games, which Mantle set in 1956 and Gonzalez tied in 2001.
“I told him when I got to first base (after walking in the sixth inning) that he was playing PlayStation right now, the way everything was falling in. He started laughing, but I was being serious,” Gonzalez said.
“He is in one of those grooves when you are seeing the ball well. It seems like every time you are up, there are runners in scoring position and he is getting them in.”
And maybe, just maybe, Pujols will challenge Bonds’ single-season home run record, as Gonzalez predicted earlier this season, with protection from 4-5 hitters Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen.
Rolen had a three-run homer off Vargas in a four-run first inning and added a two-run double in a four-run fourth. Edmonds had an RBIsingle in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to nine games.
“It’s a great groove,” Gonzalez said, remembering the feeling during his 2001 season, when he hit 57 home runs.
“His RBI numbers are ridiculous. He’s just locked in. He’s legitimately a triple-crown contender. I know it’s early, but if the guys in front of him and behind him get hot, it’s hard to walk him a lot.
“That’s what makes their team so good. When Edmonds and Rolen get going, you keep going up and down that order. You pick your poison after that.”
Conor Jackson’s fourth home run of the season leading off the second inning kept the D-Backs from their third shutout of the season, and second in four games on a road trip that ends today.
Jason Marquis (4-4) gave up three hits and four walks in seven innings for his first career victory against the DBacks, who with Atlanta had been the only NL teams he had not beaten.
The D-Backs did not get a hit after Shawn Green’s sharp single to center to open the fourth inning, and aided by two double plays, Cardinals pitchers faced only one batter over the minimum over the final six innings.
“The way we swung the bats, we didn’t mount any sort of comeback,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Vargas had not allowed a run in his two road starts this season, in Milwaukee on April 9 and San Diego on April 25, and had won his last six road decisions dating to July 27, 2005.
But Vargas used 42 pitches while giving up four runs in the first inning, including Pujols’ RBI single to center field and Rolen’s three-home run that just made it over the fence in the left-field corner.
“He had trouble throwing the ball where he wanted to,” Melvin said.
“When you hit your spots, you can do a good job” against the Cardinals, said Vargas, who beat them last year. “It’s tough without your best stuff.”
Vargas said he was affected by the chilly weather — it was 56 degrees at game time.
“We come from Arizona. I don’t pitch in cold weather for a while. You can’t warm up good,” Vargas said.