Molina homers, Pujols goes hitless as Cards sweep Reds

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Yadier Molina hit a two-run drive while Albert Pujols went hitless in his quest for 700 homers, and the St. Louis Cardinals swept a doubleheader from the Cincinnati Reds 5-1 and 1-0 in 11 innings on Saturday.

Pujols started at first base in the opener and hit second for the first time this season. He went 0 for 3 with two walks in his first two plate appearances. The sold-out crowd of 46,678 loudly booed both walks.

He pinch hit and struck out in the second game.

St. Louis manager Oliver Marmol said playing Pujols so frequently is a no-brainer despite his age of 42.

“When you put a winning lineup out there, he’s in it,” Marmol said. “It’s not a matter of whether we’re facing a lefty or a righty. He’s in there because he’s doing a nice job against everybody. It’s just a matter now of resting him to make sure he’s fresh.”

Pujols hit career homer No. 698 during Friday night’s 6-5 victory over Cincinnati. He is hitting .317 (45 for 142) with 15 homers and 35 RBIs in 48 games since July 10.

Tommy Edman had three hits in the opener for the NL Central-leading Cardinals. Paul Goldschmidt and Brendan Donovan each drove in a run.

The doubleheader was scheduled after a July 17 rainout. It was the sixth doubleheader for the Cardinals this season, and No. 5 for the Reds.

St. Louis won the night game when Andrew Knizner scored on a throwing error by center fielder Nick Senzel, who was playing third base in a five-man infield.

“I caught it, and he established his lane,” Senzel said. “It was obviously in my way of trying to throw it home. I tried to give myself a little room to throw it, and I tried to make a good throw, and it just hit him.”

St. Louis starter José Quintana allowed two hits, hit a batter, and struck out six in eight innings. St. Louis has gone 8-1 in his nine starts since acquiring him from Pittsburgh on Aug. 1.

“It’s amazing,” Quintana said of that success. “For sure every start I want to win, but I think we get better feelings if the team gets the W.”

Steven Matz (5-3) pitched the 11th in his first appearance since spraining his left knee in a start at Cincinnati in late July. Hector Cruz (0-1) was the loser.

St. Louis (87-60) increased its NL Central lead to eight games over second-place Milwaukee.

TJ Friedl hit an RBI double in the seventh to account for Cincinnati’s only run in the opener. Mike Minor (4-12) issued five walks in three innings and was charged with five runs and five hits.

“I was battling my control,” Minor said. “I just couldn’t throw where I wanted to. I was trying to throw strikes but obviously I couldn’t. If you can’t throw a strike, it’s tough to get guys out.”

The lowly Reds lost for the eighth time in nine games.

“I thought we hit some balls hard but their defense made some nice plays in the outfield,” Cincinnati manager David Bell said.

St. Louis right-hander Dakota Hudson (8-7) pitched a career-high eight innings of six-hit ball in his first big league start since Aug. 30.

“That’s what we’ve been looking for all year,” Marmol said. “Super efficient. Overall, that’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. Legit outing.”

Hudson was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Sept. 5.

“I’ve been trying all year to get in a position to help us win,” Hudson said. “I had to have that mental talk with myself and say that’s what we’re going to do. The four-hour drive to Memphis is a perfect time for it. As much as I hated it and it did make me angry, maybe it will help me turn the page.”

The Cardinals jumped in front with two runs in the second. Edman singled in Donovan, and Goldschmidt drove in Molina with a bases-loaded walk. It was the Reds’ 14th bases-loaded walk this season, second-most in MLB.

Molina hit his fifth homer in the third, a drive to left that capped a three-run inning.

“I gave him a (batting practice) fastball,” Minor said. “I could have hit that one out.”

It was Molina’s third homer in September.

“He’s done a nice job,” Marmol said. “His approach is what it needs to be. He’s using the whole field. He’s picking his spots to do damage.”

STAN THE MAN & PUJOLS

Pujols made his 1,653rd and 1,654th appearances in a team win, moving past Stan Musial (1941-63) for fourth in MLB history. Pujols’ two walks gave him 999 with the Cardinals and 1,369 overall.

SATURDAY AT THE PARK

St. Louis is an MLB-best 19-6 (.760) on Saturday this season (9-3 at home), its most successful day of the week. With the win, the Cardinals established a single-season franchise record for Saturday victories, surpassing the 1962 (18-11) and 2014 (18-9) clubs.

ROSTER MOVES

Reds: RHP Raynel Espinal was optioned to Triple-A Louisville. … RHP Kyle Dowdy was recalled from the taxi squad to serve as the 29th player for the doubleheader. He pitched four scoreless innings in his second big league appearance of the season.

Cardinals: Before Saturday’s first game, Hudson was added as the 29th player for the doubleheader.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Reds: RHP Hunter Greene (right shoulder strain) was reinstated from the 15-day injured list. He was slated to start the second game. … RHP Graham Ashcraft (right biceps soreness) is set for a second rehab outing for Triple-A Louisville on Monday.

Cardinals: OF Dylan Carlson (left thumb sprain) came off the 10-day injured list and started in center field. … OF Tyler O’Neill (left hamstring strain) was placed on the 10-day IL.

UP NEXT

Reds: RHP Luis Cessa (3-3, 5.25 ERA) will be making his sixth start since moving into the starting rotation on Aug. 22.

Cardinals: LHP Jordan Montgomery (8-4, 3.20 ERA) is scheduled to make his second career start against the Reds and first since July 25, 2017, as a member of the New York Yankees.

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