Pujols hits 2 HRs, Molina throws, Matz injured, Cards top Bucs


PITTSBURGH, AP — Albert Pujols homered twice, then caught the warm-up pitches when star catcher Yadier Molina made his first pitching appearance to close out the St. Louis Cardinals’ 18-4 fight against the Chicago Pirates. Pittsburgh Sunday.

Molina allowed a pair of home runs and four runs while working the ninth inning, eventually completing the Cardinals’ three-game sweep.

But it wasn’t all fun and games for St. Louis. Starter Steven Matz lasted only four pitches before being fired with a stiff left shoulder.

“Sometimes things happen,” Matz said. “I kinda felt it in the bullpen. I was trying to work a little. …Just try to get through that, get some takedowns.

Pujols upped his career homerun count to 683. Hitting for Nolan Arenado with St. Louis up 11-0 in the fifth inning, Pujols threw a 425-foot drive from the left field roundhouse.

The 42-year-old slugger added a three-run homer in the ninth against Pirates infielder Josh VanMeter in the ninth. Pujols is fifth on the all-time home run list, 13 behind Alex Rodriguez in fourth, and his 32 at PNC Park are the most by an opposing player.

“I’m here to try to help this ball club as much as possible,” Pujols said. “It’s not about me. It was never about me. It was always about this Cardinals organization and the impact I can have on the players in the organization.

Exactly a week after Pujols took the mound for the first time in his big league career, Molina had his turn with St. Louis up 18-0. Pujols was behind home plate to warm up his longtime teammate between innings.

Perennial All-Star and Gold Glover at catches, Molina, 39, hasn’t been as successful throwing them. He gave up a solo homer to Yoshi Tsutsugo and a three-point drive from Jack Suwinski. His speed peaked at 69 mph.

“I feel like Yadi had a better handle on his fastball (than Pujols),” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It didn’t go his way. I missed the mid-mid too much.

Overall, Molina allowed four hits in his only inning, throwing 14 of 20 pitches for strikes, with no strikeouts or walks. Pujols also allowed four runs and two home runs in one inning while finishing a rout of San Francisco last Sunday night.

“I wish he was a real pitcher,” Pirates first baseman Michael Chavis said of Molina. “It was just awkward. But he was having fun on the mound. … It’s fun to see. I’m glad he got to enjoy it. He’s a Hall of Famer, so you have to pay your respect and all. Good for him.”

After Matz came out, Angel Rondón (1-0) came in to take out Ke’Bryan Hayes with his first pitch. Rondón allowed just one hit in five innings for his first major league win, striking out four and walking three.

After being recalled from the taxi squad before the game, Rondón made his third major league appearance and his first since June 12, 2021.

“I can’t say enough about this performance today,” Matz said. “For him to come in, not even knowing when he would come in, to pitch five innings. It was impressive. It was huge for the team. He picked me up, he picked up the team.

Highly touted prospect Nolan Gorman doubled in the first, giving the Cardinals the lead with his first major league RBI. He had three hits and went 5-for-10 with two doubles in his first major league series.

Tommy Edman also had three of the Cardinals’ 20 hits. He hit two doubles and helped score a second six-pointer against Bryse Wilson (0-3).

Harrison Bader also hit VanMeter, who made his first appearance as a pitcher in the majors and allowed five runs in the ninth. Usually a second baseman and outfielder, VanMeter was fielded as a first-time catcher in an emergency situation.

MOVING THE LIST

Cardinals LHP Matthew Liberatore was opted for Triple-A Memphis. He allowed four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 innings in his major league debut on Saturday.

TRAINER’S ROOM

SS Pirates Kevin Newman had a setback rehabilitating a left groin strain with Triple-A Indianapolis. The new injury is in the hamstring area, general manager Ben Cherington said.

NEXT

Cardinals: RHP Miles Mikolas (3-2, 1.68) will take the mound Monday as St. Louis returns home for the first of two games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Mikolas hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his eight starts this season.

Pirates: RHP JT Brubaker (0-4, 5.50) is set to start the first of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies on Monday. His most recent victory came on August 24 of last season.

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