CINCINNATI (AP) — Albert Pujols ended the St. Louis Cardinals' longest homer drought in three years with a two-run shot that landed in the front row, and left-hander Jaime Garcia pitched into the seventh inning in another Fernando-like appearance, beating the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 on Friday night.
Ryan Ludwick added a two-run shot off Aaron Harang (2-5) that also barely cleared the wall, sparking an offense that hadn't homered in the last nine games.
Garcia (4-2) has gone at least six innings and given up two or fewer earned runs in all seven starts. It's the best such opening streak by a rookie since the Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela created Fernando-mania by opening the 1981 season with eight such games.
The 23-year-old Garcia had a delayed start to his big league career. He was promoted in 2008, but needed reconstructive surgery little more than a month later.
Back in good health, Garcia hadn't given up a homer all season until Drew Stubbs connected on a two-run shot in the seventh, cutting it to 4-2. Garcia gave up only five hits in 6 1-3 innings and left with a 1.42 ERA.
St. Louis' slump-busting win opened baseball's Civil Rights weekend, honoring those who have worked for equality. Willie Mays, Billie Jean King and Harry Belafonte will receive Major League Baseball's Beacon awards at a luncheon Saturday.
The defending NL Central champions arrived in a deep rut, having dropped seven of nine. The Cardinals have been either tied for first or there alone every day this season, but the Reds had whittled their lead to a half-game by winning five in a row.
One more win would put Cincinnati in first, a place where it hasn't been so late in a season since June 8, 2006. The Cardinals' MVP made sure it didn't happen.
Pujols ended the Reds' streak of 21 scoreless innings with a drive that barely cleared the wall in center during the third inning, his first homer since April 25. Two innings later, Ludwick hit his two-run shot to right field, one that barely eluded Jay Bruce's reach. The outfielder slammed his glove on the track in frustration at his near-miss, drawing a smile from Harang.
NOTES: The teams will wear replica 1947 caps and jerseys Saturday, honoring the year Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. ... The Cardinals are 5-2 against the Reds this season. ... St. Louis has 87 homers at Great American, second-most by a visiting team (the Cubs have 88 in the same number of games). ... Ludwick and Matt Holliday extended their hitting streaks to seven games each. Ludwick finished with three hits. ... Cincinnati's scoreless-inning streak was its longest since 2000, when the pitching staff threw 25 scoreless innings in a row.