Cardinals Beat Astros in Series Opener

Albert Pujols (search) made sure the St. Louis Cardinals (search ) got off to another fast start.

Pujols homered in the first inning of the NL Championship series Wednesday night just as he did in the first round. Although he had a quiet night otherwise, he set the tone for the Cardinals' 10-7 victory over the Houston Astros (search ).

The slugger emerged as the Cardinals' most worthy MVP candidate for his season-long consistency, and hasn't slowed down in the playoffs.

After St. Louis fell behind 2-0 in the first, Pujols — the NL MVP runner-up behind Barry Bonds the last two seasons — followed Larry Walker's triple with a tying shot into the Cardinals bullpen in right field.

Pujols provided the punch again for the NL's top offensive team just like he did in Game 1 of the division series against Los Angeles when he connected off Odalis Perez. When it was time to eliminate the Dodgers, Pujols' power produced a three-run homer that broke open Game 4.

Pujols' eighth-inning single against Houston made him 7-for-18 in the postseason with three homers and seven RBIs.

That's just an extension of the regular season when he batted .331 with 46 homers and 123 RBIs and became the third player in major league history — joining Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams — to drive in 500 runs in his first four seasons.

The Cardinals also got big contributions from Walker, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. St. Louis rallied from another two-run deficit by scoring twice in the fifth. A five-run sixth inning put the Cardinals comfortably in front.

Walker, thriving in his first postseason appearance in nine years, tripled, doubled and singled. He scored three times and drove in a run.

Rolen had been in a 3-32 slump since returning from a strained calf on Sept. 28, an injury that forced him out of 16 games, before his game-tying single in the fifth. He also walked and scored ahead of Edmonds' three-run double that capped the sixth.

Edmonds was 1-for-29 to end the regular season, taking the final day off to preserve a .301 average. He was 4-for-15 in the division series with a homer, two RBIs and nine strikeouts before busting out with two hits against the Astros.

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