Still No Advantage

Published 2:36 am Monday, May 3, 2010

ST. LOUIS — Familiarity with Chris Carpenter’s stuff from opening day was no advantage for the Cincinnati Reds.

Carpenter pitched seven innings of two-hit ball to beat the Reds for the second time and Albert Pujols broke the game open with a three-run double in the seventh as the St. Louis Cardinals won 6-0 Sunday to wrap up a 6-1 homestand.

“They know what I’ve got, they see me many times,” Carpenter said. “To go out and be able to make pitches, keep them off balance, it was a fun game.”

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David Freese homered for the third time in four games on a three-hit day and Ryan Ludwick and Brendan Ryan had an RBI apiece for St. Louis, which took two of three for its seventh series win out of eight this season.

The Cardinals are an NL-best 17-8, and Freese is a big reason why. He doubled off the center-field wall in the eighth and is 12 for 22 during a six-game hitting streak.

“He carried the ballclub, that’s the simple thing to say,” Pujols said. “I’m real happy for him.”

Freese leads National League rookies with nine multihit games, and he had six RBIs on Wednesday against Atlanta. He’s taken to wearing a Batman mask in the clubhouse as a good luck charm before games.

“I think it’s just one of those weeks. I threw the Batman mask on a couple of times,” Freese said. “It’s got a lot of hits in it.”

Carpenter (4-0) outpitched Aaron Harang (1-4) for the second time this year in a rematch from opening day, striking out eight with three walks. He has won seven straight decisions over the Reds and 13 in a row with a 1.86 ERA against NL Central opponents dating to last season.

“It ain’t meaningless when you’ve won seven in a row against somebody,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It means the guy can pitch. It means he knows how to pitch against us.”

Carpenter is 9-3 against the Reds for his career with the last loss on June 6, 2006, at St. Louis. He ran into a little trouble in the fifth after a third-strike passed ball and a walk put runners on first and second with one out, but recovered after a quick visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan to strike out Ryan Hanigan and get Harang on a comebacker.

Carpenter said his fastball was much improved over recent outings, although he wasn’t sure why.

“Great question,” Carpenter said. “But it’s definitely getting better. Everything was good today. I was excited about it.”

Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs each worked an inning in the Cardinals’ fourth shutout, with four different starters.

Harang lasted six innings and allowed three runs, falling to 7-12 against the Cardinals. The Reds totaled a season-low three hits and concluded a 4-2 trip.

“It’s a bummer to go home with those last two tough losses,” Harang said. “But the guys have a good upbeat attitude, so we’ve just got to go home and get things turned around.”

Pujols’ drive to left-center on a 3-1 pitch from Nick Masset cleared the bases in the seventh for a 6-0 lead. He’s batting .385 with runners in scoring position and is 13 for 25 during a seven-game hitting streak.

Freese’s third homer of the season landed in the visitor’s bullpen in left in the second. Ludwick had an RBI single in the third and Ryan added an RBI double in the fifth for a 3-0 lead.

The Cardinals are 5-1 since manager Tony La Russa began batting the pitcher eighth again, with Ryan as the primary ninth-place hitter.

“It gives us one more chance to get a guy on in front of Albert,” Ryan said. “It seems like kind of a breath of fresh air getting a chance to hit somewhere else, and just try to get on base — that’s all I’m trying to do.”

NOTES: Matt Holliday got a scheduled day off, with Nick Stavinoha getting his first start of the season in LF and going 2 for 3. Holliday is 1 for 18 with one RBI against Harang. … Paid attendance of 43,292 was the Cardinals’ third sellout. … Jeff Durbin, part of a three-man official scoring rotation in St. Louis, worked his first game after recovering from heart surgery in February. … Brandon Phillips is 4 for 24 against Carpenter. … INF Felipe Lopez, on the DL with a strained right elbow, will accompany the Cardinals on a seven-game trip starting Monday in Philadelphia. He’s set to resume hitting but won’t throw for another week.