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Cards crush Braves

POSTED: August 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.
TOM GANNAM/The Associated Press

St. Louis Cardinals' Ryan Ludwick, right, scores on a sacrifice fly by teammate Rick Ankiel, as Atlanta Braves' Brian McCann, left, looks on in the fourth inning Friday in St. Louis.

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ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright worked six dominant innings in his first start since early June, and Albert Pujols had three hits and three RBIs in the St. Louis Cardinals' 18-3 victory over the sagging Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Wainwright (7-3) had been out with a sprained middle finger on his right hand. He added a career-high three hits and an RBI as the offense set season bests for runs and hits (26).

The right-hander, who successfully lobbied against a fourth rehab stint earlier in the week, appeared in midseason form while allowing five hits with four strikeouts and a walk.

Pujols has had 100 RBIs in each of his seven seasons, and is making a drive for eight straight with 32 RBIs in 34 games since the All-Star break. He has 82 RBIs with 32 games to go, 13 behind Ryan Ludwick, who singled twice and walked twice with an RBI.

The first five hitters were a combined 10-for-12 with seven walks and a sacrifice fly the first four times through the order, as the Cardinals pummeled rookie Charlie Morton (3-8) and two relievers for a 12-1 lead after five innings. Yadier Molina had four hits and four RBIs, Cesar Izturis had four hits, Rick Ankiel had three RBIs and Skip Schumaker had two hits and is 16-for-36 (.444) during an eight-game hitting streak.

Even pitcher Joel Pineiro, 4-for-43 on the year with 30 strikeouts, participated in the romp with an RBI double in the ninth off Julian Tavarez.

The outcome could have been a lot more lopsided, given the Cardinals left the bases loaded twice and stranded 13 runners while knocking the Braves a season-worst 17 games below .500.

Greg Norton hit his 11th career pinch homer and first this season, and catcher Brian McCann threw out two runners attempting to steal in the third for the Braves. But Morton retired only four of the 14 batters he faced.

The Cardinals had been on the fence whether to plug Wainwright, their opening-day starter, into the rotation or as the closer. Rookie Chris Perez made the decision easier, going 4-for-4 in save situations since his call-up earlier this month, and the Cardinals ramped up Wainwright's pitch count during his rehab stint.

Wainwright justified the decision by breezing through a reeling lineup that has lost 11 of 12, needing only 72 pitches.

Wainwright, who lives in St. Simons, Ga., and was a first-round pick of the Braves in 2000, is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in six career appearances against his old team.

Pineiro, bumped from the rotation to make way for Wainwright despite winning all three of his starts this month, allowed two runs and five hits the final three innings for his second career save.

The Cardinals placed former closer Jason Isringhausen on the 15-day disabled list with an elbow injury to make room for Wainwright.



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