video thumbnail

NLCS Gm2: Weeks belts a two-run homer to left

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers had home-field advantage in the National League Championship Series, but the Cardinals had Albert Pujols.

Advantage Pujols in Game 2 on Monday, a 12-3 Cards thumping that silenced sold-out Miller Park. Pujols wrested away Milwaukee's home-field edge with a four-hit, five-RBI clinic that evened the NLCS at a game apiece.

If the Brewers want to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1982, they will have to win at least one game at Busch Stadium.

"We'll see when the series is over whether it was impactful or not," Prince Fielder said.

As third baseman Jerry Hairston pointed out, the Brewers did not go undefeated at Miller Park in 2011, though they did go 57-24 in the regular season, for five more wins than any other team. They won each of their first four postseason home games by a composite score of 25-13.

Then came Game 2 of the NLCS on Monday, the Pujols Show. Starter Shaun Marcum lasted only four innings and surrendered five earned runs in the Brewers' most lopsided Miller Park loss all year.

The teams headed to St. Louis with a terrific Game 3 matchup of Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter set for Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. CT on TBS. History offers few clues about what comes next. Previous teams that won LCS Game 1 and lost Game 2 went 13-16 in those series, but NL clubs were 9-6.

This series so far has starred each teams' big hitters. Ryan Braun and Fielder combined for two homers and six RBIs in Milwaukee's 9-6 win in Game 1. Pujols took over Game 2.

Pujols homered off Marcum in the first inning, hammered a two-run double in the third after Brewers right fielder Corey Hart couldn't catch up with a foul ball. And just to prove he's an equal-opportunity hitter, Pujols touched reliever Marco Estrada for an RBI double in the fifth and doubled again against Kameron Loe in the seventh.

Four plate appearances, 10 total bases and another piece of Cardinals history. Pujols' 14th postseason home run -- his first since the 2006 World Series -- set a St. Louis franchise record. So did his 42nd postseason RBI.

"This game is going to raise you high and going to bring you down," said Pujols, who was down in Game 1, going 1-for-4 with a key double play. "I've been in that situation before. [The thing you need to do] is just let the game come to you."

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa saw the beginnings of a big night during batting practice. He watched Pujols with the Cards' hitting coaches, Mark McGwire and Mike Aldrete, and La Russa saw Pujols "fine-tuning his stroke."

"He was just thinking about how he could have better at-bats," La Russa said. "He's so smart."

Milwaukee left-hander Chris Narveson finally retired Pujols in the eighth inning. The fans rewarded Narveson with a standing ovation.

"[Pujols] is pretty good, isn't he?" Hairston said with a smile. "He's arguably the best player of our generation."

Said Fielder: "That's Albert. That's what he does, it's no surprise."

The Brewers had no answers aside from Rickie Weeks' two-run home run off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson in the fourth inning and Fielder's solo shot in the eighth. Weeks' homer was his second extra-base hit in the NLCS after going 1-for-18 in the five-game NL Division Series against the D-backs. It cut the lead briefly to 5-2 and awoke a sellout crowd of 43,937 that had been silenced over Marcum's four innings.

Milwaukee's most reliable pitcher for so much of the season, Marcum has come unraveled. Including Monday, when he allowed five runs on seven hits in four innings, he has surrendered at least five runs in five of his last six starts, including each of his outings in the postseason. Marcum had allowed five or more runs in only three of his 29 starts before that.

Pujols did much of the damage. He turned on an up-and-in 89-mph fastball in the first inning for a two-run homer, then doubled over center fielder Nyjer Morgan's head in the third. It was not a good showing by the Brewers' defense; Morgan couldn't hang on to Jackson's low line drive to start the inning, and he also had a chance to catch Pujols' hit before banging into the wall. Earlier in the Pujols at-bat, Hart slid just short of a fly ball in foul ground.

Marcum and Roenicke have been chalking up the right-hander's recent struggles to bad luck, arguing that he had been burned by a bloop hit here, a well-placed grounder there, before a mistake turns into a backbreaking home run.

They made the same argument on Monday.

"Once again, it's seven hits, and three of them were hit hard," Marcum said. "It's back to the same old [stuff] that has been going on the past six weeks. There's nothing you can do about it. You just have to keep moving on. ... I guess I [irritated] the baseball gods or something."

Marcum is lined up to pitch again at Miller Park in Game 6, if the series gets that far, and Roenicke indicated he would stick with that plan. The primary Plan B would presumably be No. 5 starter Narveson, who has a 3.00 ERA in his career against the Cardinals.

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy pinpointed the problem as fastball command.

"He's not as sharp as he was earlier in the year, and hopefully we can fix that and get him back down in the zone," Lucroy said. "Usually, he 'paints' down in the zone, and if you look back at the fastballs that Pujols hit, they're up. They're belt high. That's a pretty good pitch to hit."

Weeks' homer gave the Brewers hope, and even trailing 7-2 in the fifth, they showed signs of life. Hart walked and Braun hit a ground-rule double for his fifth multihit game in seven 2011 playoff contests. That began the parade of relievers from the Cards' bullpen, starting with left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who walked Fielder to load the bases.

Weeks drew right-hander Lance Lynn and hit a first-pitch curveball to shortstop, beginning a rally-killing inning-ending double play. Replays showed Weeks was probably safe, but Roenicke's protest to umpire Sam Holbrook drew no result.

"I thought I was safe, but hey, he made the call," Weeks said. "You can't go back and change that right now."

Two innings later, the Cardinals scored four runs on six hits against Loe, who recorded only one out.

On to St. Louis.

"We just have to win games right now," Weeks said. "You can look at home records, road records, but when it comes down to it, you just play baseball and try to win the game."

MLB.com Comments