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Quick hits: Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty shines; Albert Pujols gives Busch Stadium fans a treat

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols and more Cardinals to watch for this weekend. Plus, a happy birthday shoutout to Cairo, Ill., native Christopher Jackson from “Hamilton”! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

While Jack Flaherty had an impressive audition Friday night not only for a postseason roster spot but a chance to be in the rotation in next weekend’s first round, Albert Pujols took another step toward the National Baseball Hall of Fame, not that his route wasn’t already mapped out.

The St. Louis fans who were disappointed not to see Pujols’ 700th career home run — few saw it on Apple TV either — received a giant consolation prize.

On a night when he was honored for hitting No. 700 last week in Los Angeles, Pujols ripped a 1-2 Johan Oviedo slider into Big Mac Land to open the fourth inning, meaning, of course, that all fans in that section will get a free Big Mac sandwich.

The homer was Pujols’ 501st of his career against a right-hander and off a record 456th different pitcher. As often has been the case lately, a Pujols homer either put his team ahead or, in this instance, tied the game at 1-1 and helped lift Flaherty to a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Flaherty worked six innings, tying his season high, and allowed one run while striking out six and throwing 95 pitches.

It was Pujols’ 22nd homer of the season and ninth against a right-hander. Since Aug 14., Pujols has 14 homers, second in the majors to Aaron Judge, who has hit 15 of his 61 since then. Pujols’ .529 slugging percentage is his highest since 2011, the last previous season he played with the Cardinals. And (big shock), he received a standing ovation from the full house of 47,032 at Busch Stadium.

Seven of Pujols’ past nine homers either have put the Cardinals ahead or tied the game.

Flaherty dodges traffic

Flaherty sailed through a 1-2-3 first inning. But he had to escape a bases-loaded spot, one-out spot to come clean in the second.

Jack Suwinski singled to open the Pittsburgh second and initially was ruled safe at second when second baseman Brendan Donovan, after fielding a high chopper, threw high and wide to shortstop Tommy Edman, who was trying to hold the bag.

The Cardinals challenged the safe call, which was overturned. But Flaherty loaded the bases anyway on a walk to Ben Gamel and a single to center by Rodolfo Castro.

Flaherty stranded all three runners, though, freezing Jose Godoy for strike three and inducing another force-out grounder.

Bryan Reynolds was hit by a pitch and Suwinski drew a two-walk in the third to run Flaherty’s pitch count to 57. But the inning ended on pitch No. 58 as Ke’Bryan Hayes flied to right.

Oviedo returns

Former Cardinal Oviedo, traded by the Cardinals to Pittsburgh in the Aug. 1 Jose Quintana deal, faced the Cardinals for the first time. He got through the first two innings without incident but gave up a two-out infield single to Lars Nootbaar and then a single to right by Paul Goldschmidt.

Nolan Arenado sent a prospective extra-base hit to left, but Ji Hwan Bae jumped to make the catch before banging into the wall and the game went tied to the fourth.

Pirates nudge ahead on two-out bunt

Gamel doubled to right center to lead off the Pittsburgh fourth and moved to third on Castro’s ground out. Flaherty fanned Godoy for the second time on a knuckle curve. But Bae pushed a bunt to the right side of the mound and beat a gloved-hand pickup and underhand throw to first by Donovan.

Flaherty then struck out Oneil Cruz for the third time. In 83 games, the rookie has struck out a whopping 123 times. This strikeout preceded Flaherty’s second 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, punctuated by his sixth strikeout.

Goldschmidt, Arenado give Cardinals the lead

Donovan singled to right with one out in the St. Louis fifth and Goldschmidt, enjoying his second multi-hit game in his past three, singled to center, sending Donovan to hit. Arenado blooped a single to right put the Cardinals ahead 2-1.

Defense doesn’t rest

Armed with his first lead, Flaherty had another perfect inning in the sixth, abetted by a leaping catch in right by Nootbaar, who blew a bubble as he pulled in Gamel’s drive.

Andre Pallante allowed two of the first three batters he faced to reach base in the seventh, Giovanny Gallegos closed out that inning, only to allow two runners himself in the eighth. Reenter Nootbaar.

With two out, pinch hitter Cal Mitchell sent a foul fly toward the box seats down the first-base line. Donovan and Nootbaar both gave chase, with Donovan leaping and missing on his attempt before bumping into Nootbaar, who made the grab for the final out of the inning as both players tumbled into the protective netting.

Ryan Helsley then wrapped up his 19th save as first baseman Goldschmidt dived over the Post-Dispatch tarp to snag Miguel Andujar’s foul pop-up before he also crashed into the netting as he ended the game.

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Rick Hummel is a Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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