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The stars come out, especially Albert Pujols (No. 698), as Cardinals overtake Reds

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The Cardinals had only one hit through eight innings on Thursday night against a collection of Cincinnati pitchers specializing in off-speed pitches. That game resulted in a 3-2 loss for the Cardinals and through five innings —and four different pitchers on Friday — they had only two hits and one run.

But, here is where the stars are supposed to shine.

Paul Goldschmidt, who had been struggling, opened the sixth inning with a double to left center. Nolan Arenado singled to right and Goldschmidt scored to cut a Cincinnati lead to 4-2.

Corey Dickerson flied deep to left and guess who was up next?

On Reynel Espinal’s first pitch to him, Albert Pujols, the brightest star lately in the Cardinals’ galaxy, launched a 427-foot, game-tying homer to left. It was the fifth time this season that Pujols had homered on the first pitch.

Ultimately, this starburst in the sixth led to a 6-5 win over the Reds before a capacity house of 47,118 as the big hitters came out again in the seventh following a home run by the Reds’ Kyle Farmer in the top of the inning.

Goldschmidt doubled home Brendan Donovan with the tying run and Arenado blooped his 40th double to left to send in Goldschmidt as the Cardinals took their first lead of the night.

For history’s sake, the home run was No. 698 of Pujols’ career. For the sake of the game, Pujols’ home run off a 453rd different pitcher either tied or put the Cardinals ahead for the fifth time in his last six home runs.

The homer was the 476th for Pujols in the National League, breaking a tie for 10th with Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Willie Stargell, who hit all 475 of their home runs in the National League.

Earlier, Pujols had been hit in the chest by a pitch, marking the 87th time he had been hit by a pitch as a Cardinal, tying Steve Evans (1908-13) for first in club annals. There almost was a 699th homer but Pujols’ blast to left in the seventh was caught at the track.

Helsley is Immaculate

But the crowd, which swelled the season attendance past three million, had been treated enough as Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley closed it down. Helsley gained his 18th save with an Immaculate Inning, getting three strikeouts on nine pitches. No Cardinal had done that since Jason Isringhausen in 2002.

Bob Gibson was the only other Cardinal to do it in 1969.

Flaherty continues his battle

While the Cardinals were laboring early on against another raft of relievers in a “bullpen” game, right-hander Jack Flaherty was continuing his battle to regain his form of 2018-19 and early 2021.

“Once you show the ability to do something, it is everybody’s expectation—not only the fan base—that you have the ability to repeat that,” said manager Oliver Marmol before the game.

In his third start since coming off the 60-day injured list, Flaherty wasn’t terrible Friday night. He wasn’t good either although he did strike out five in five innings.

Flaherty didn’t have a strikeout over five innings in his previous start and Marmol had said he wasn’t concerned about that. Yet.

“If it continues, then obviously, yes, because he’s a pitcher that should have swing and miss,” said Marmol. “He’s proven to have that.

“His ability to command his fastball to both sides of the plate allows him to use his other stuff. And he didn’t have that last time, especially to the lefties.”

Flaherty had swing and miss in the first three innings, fanning four, including Aristides Aquino at 96.5 mph to end the second.

Arenado error leads to run in third but Flaherty gets DP

Cardinals third baseman Arenado no doubt will win his 10th consecutive Gold Glove but he also leads the team in errors. He made his 12th, firing well over the head of first baseman Goldschmidt after fielding Nick Senzel’s tapper in the third. Spencer Steer walked before Austin Romine, after failing to bunt, struck out.

Flaherty nicked TJ Friedl with a pitch to load the bases and they remained loaded when Arenado crossed in front of shortstop Edman for Jonathan India’s grounder and fired to second but not in time to get Friedl. Second baseman Brendan Donovan’s relay was too late to catch India as a run scored.

The bases still were loaded with one out and pitching coach Mike Maddux went to the mound, perhaps to call for one more double play chance.

This time, Flaherty induced another grounder to Arenado, who raced to the third-base bag for the sure second out and fired to first to retire Farmer.

Cardinals tie game on error

The Cardinals drew even in the third, as the Reds went to their third pitcher in three innings. Tyler O’Neill walked and stole second. With one out, Donovan grounded to second baseman India, who threw high to first as Donovan beat the play for a hit and the throwing miscue allowed O’Neill to score from second.

Sixty-nine pitches for Flaherty through four

Flaherty, who hasn’t won since Aug. 13 of last year when he beat Kansas City 6-0, walked two and hit one through four as he threw 69 pitches. The condition of his troublesome right shoulder no longer seems a question.

Marmol understood why it would have been, though.

“You’re human, so it’s in the back of your head,” he said. “So I would think that would be part of it for him.”

Arenado makes stellar play but Flaherty weakens

Arenado turned in one of his best plays of the season in the fifth when he dived near the bag for Donovan Solano’s smash and threw from his knees, throwing over the sliding Farmer to catcher Andrew Knizner, who made the tag for the second out.

By that time, though, the Reds had broken the 1-1 tie with two runs on a double to left by Jake Fraley. Earlier in the inning, No. 9 hitter Romine and Friedl had singled and Flaherty had hit Farmer in the back.

But Arenado’s play only stopped the bleeding. Aquino ripped a misplaced Flaherty fastball for a run-scoring to left and it was was 4-1. Flaherty’s night was over after 91 pitches in five innings. But he had only two hits of support in that time, the second a double by Knizner with two out in the fifth.

After his exit, Flaherty took it out on the dugout refrigerator, slamming the door twice and breaking the glass, according to an observer near the dugout.

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

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