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When Albert Pujols rounded the bases and applause crescendoed Saturday through Busch Stadium, peaking with the inevitable but unusual curtain call for a visiting player, the pitcher who gave up the home run, Dakota Hudson, waited and watched and soaked in the scene.

Let Pujols have the moment.

Hudson already had the game.

The first-year starter continued rewriting his career bests with an eighth consecutive quality start and demonstrable control through seven innings during the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory against Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels. Hudson allowed one run, and it came when Pujols’ opened the seventh inning with his 646th home run, but his first ever as a visitor in St. Louis. A sellout crowd of 46,711 cheered as if he was still a local. Hudson listened.

“It was awesome to be a part of that,” Hudson said. “That’s how every player wants to be remembered. So to be able to live in that moment, as a part of it, not necessarily as the guy, but as a part of it, is every baseball player’s dream. He deserved every second he got.”

As will be true all weekend, every one of Pujols’ at-bats Saturday began with catcher Yadier Molina stepping in front of home plate and the crowd rising to its feet for an ovation. At the start of the second inning, when Pujols had his first at-bat Saturday, Hudson already had two strikeouts and a scoreless inning as momentum. The only other time Hudson had stared into Pujols’ eyes as a hitter was as kid when he and a friend had posters of the former Cardinals’ MVP on their walls. He understood the applause. Pujols raised his batting helmet to the crowd and settled into the box, waiting for the pitcher to take the mound. That’s when Hudson saw it.

A nod.

From Pujols.

“It was kind of like, ‘Hey, let’s compete,’” Hudson said. “I gave him the best I had and I think he gave me the best he had.”

The victory, the Cardinals’ ninth in their past 13 games, put them in position to sweep the interleague series against the Angels with a win Sunday night, on ESPN’s national broadcast. As Hudson (6-3) threw six scoreless innings to start the game, the Cardinals built a four-run lead out of extremes. Hudson’s bunt in the fifth elicited a throwing error from Angels pitcher Felix Pena that allowed half of the Cardinals’ runs to score. The other two came on Marcell Ozuna’s 20th home run of the season – a catapulted shot that landed rows beyond the Big Mac Land above left field. The Cardinals got a pair of runs on a bunt that hopped less than 55 feet and a pair on a home run that zoomed 400 feet.

When Jordan Hicks had to be removed due to a cramp caused by triceps tendinitis, Tyler Webb completed the game with the tying run at the plate for his first big-league save.

As Hudson ended his fourth start of the season with an ERA bloated past 6.00 and questions swirling whether he remain in the rotation, he described how his goal was to build on each start, on each inning. His goal, he expanded on Saturday, was “to build and be the best Dakota Hudson I can be.” That had to start with greater faith in his best pitch, the sinker. And once he had it, teammates could see it in the results and, said one, “on his face.”

“Early on in the year he had that start in Milwaukee, gave up some bombs, and you could just see how he was a little lost,” shortstop Paul DeJong said. “He’s found his way back. He’s mentally tough. You see it on his face the difference between how he started – a little unsure of himself – to now with so much confidence, the way he needs to pitch.”

That radiates from what DeJong called Hudson’s “stupid-high groundball percentage.”

No starter in the majors is better at keeping opponents grounded than the Cardinals’ righthander, and he does so with the mix of a sinker that got him to the majors and a cutter he’s found in the majors. The Angels did not get a ball out of the infield until the third inning, and of Hudson’s 21 outs, 11 came on the ground. Nineteen didn’t leave the reach of the infield. In the sixth inning, Hudson struck out the side in order by breezing through the middle of the Angels’ order, starting with Mike Trout looking at a 93.4-mph sinker and the Justin Upton and cleanup hitter Kole Calhoun flailing at sliders.

The Angels got three hits against Hudson in the third inning – all singles – to load the bases with one out. He got a popup from Upton and a lineout from Calhoun to end the inning.

“Same recipe that is going to work for him – and that is a ball down, ball on the plate, both sides of the plate, sinker, slider, heavy, late,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Controlling counts. Engaging his defense. Good presence. Asserting his will on hitters. … That’s what competitors do – they embrace moments. He’s a tough guy. He’s a bulldog, literally.”

The reference was to Hudson’s alma mater, Mississippi State, and his mentality, which has gained strength through stubbornness. He’s persisted with his sinker. Unlike earlier in the season when groundball singles would cause him to seek strikeouts, to veer too far from the strike zone, now singles like the Angels’ get them more sinkers. Pujols had grounded out twice already when he came up to nod at Hudson again to open the seventh inning.

The Angels’ first baseman turned on a 2-1 pitch, a 93.5-mph sinker, for his 111th homer at Busch Stadium III. The crowd roared until Pujols waved his helmet again.

“Aside from the fact that was a run against the pitcher on our team, that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” starter Adam Wainwright said. Hudson “though, is cools as a cucumber, this guy. The total package. He wants the ball. He wants to win. He’s got that innate drive that you see in most great big-league superstars.”

When Pujols’ moment had passed, Hudson got a new ball and promptly retired three of the next four batters. Unfazed by the curious scene of a ballpark celebrating the visitor and barely bruised by the first homer against him in 59 innings, Hudson ended his start in the same way it began.

On a groundout.

“The best players in the world are here,” Hudson said. “You’re eventually going to give up hits, eventually going to give up runs. But that doesn’t mean you have the shut down what you’re doing. As many outs as I can get. That’s what I’m going for. …

“Keep going at it. That’s all baseball is.”

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