Snell vs. Pujols goes awry again, Pirates fall, 9-3

St. Louis' star slugger goes deep, does damage even without hits

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ST. LOUIS -- Ian Snell tried pitching around Albert Pujols.

That failed.

He then tried going right at him.

That really failed.

The third time ... well, hide the women and children before reading about that one.

Suffice it to say that, by the time Snell was done getting damaged yet again by St. Louis' star slugger, the Pirates had absorbed a 9-3 loss to the Cardinals last night at Busch Stadium, and all of that warm-and-fuzzy from the dramatic opening triumph had thoroughly disintegrated.

On deck
  • Game: Pirates vs. St. Louis Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. today, Busch Stadium.
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
  • Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-14, 4.82 ERA last year) vs. RHP Todd Wellemeyer (13-9, 3.71).
  • Key matchup: Everyone vs. Wellemeyer, 4-1 against the Pirates with a 3.42 ERA and .217 opponents' batting average.
  • Of note: With their big rally Monday, the Pirates became the second National League team since baseball's 1962 expansion to win its opener despite trailing by two or more in the ninth inning, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other was the Chicago Cubs in 1988.

Snell would be charged with eight runs, six earned, as well as nine hits, two home runs and three walks in lasting just four innings.

"I just didn't have location. I was trying my hardest to get the ball in and change speeds, but nothing was working for me," he said. "I paid the price and, unfortunately, I made my team pay for it, too."

The Pirates struck first, Nyjer Morgan again opening a game with a single and coming around on Freddy Sanchez's single and two flyouts. But St. Louis responded in the bottom of the first, thanks to the game's best hitter ...

Pujols bats .424 against Snell, so, after two quick outs, he was walked on four pitches. Seemed like sound reasoning, except that Chris Duncan, up next, turned on a 2-1 fastball and slugged it off the right foul pole to put the Cardinals ahead, 2-1.

They added another in the second, when Yadier Molina's triple was followed by Joe Thurston's double, before Pujols would come up again in the third.

Colby Rasmus, an elite outfield prospect making his major league debut, led off with a single. With no visible benefit to avoiding Pujols again, Snell turned aggressive and zipped three consecutive sliders to get ahead in the count, 1-2.

A cautious fastball evened the count, and Snell went for the kill with another slider.

A hanging slider.

Over the heart of the plate.

All the way into the seats above the bullpen beyond left-center for a 5-1 St. Louis lead.

"I just left the ball up," Snell said. "I don't know what else to say. I tried to throw the slider away from him. It just stayed over the middle of the plate."

It was Pujols' fifth home run in 35 career at-bats off Snell, and that average rose to .429. But he hardly gloated about it.

"I think the worst thing you can do is think about the success," Pujols said when asked about Snell. "I try to do what I do normally, my routine. If I do have some success against the guy, I don't take it for granted. Every day is a different day.

Snell allowed another run that inning, then the two unearned ones in the fourth.

After two quick outs, Rasmus rolled a ball to first baseman Adam LaRoche, but Snell was slow to the bag, and Rasmus was safe. Up came Pujols for the third time. Snell went at him again and, this time, won the duel by drawing a high popup to third base.

Or not.

Andy LaRoche, fighting pretty much every ball headed his way in the early going, backtracked awkwardly and dropped it for his third error in two games.

"The ball just kind of drifted on him," manager John Russell said.

Predictably, given what just preceded it, Khalil Greene followed with a two-run double.

Russell was asked if he had concerns about Snell's recent lack of activity. He skipped his final spring start because of the flu and replaced that with a mere 22-pitch output against minor leaguers Saturday at Pirate City.

"Not really," Russell answered. "He was stretched out early because of the World Baseball Classic, so his arm was built up."

Instead, Russell pointed, as Snell did, to a general lack of command. Snell threw only 44 of his 79 pitches for strikes.

"He just couldn't get anything going," Russell continued. "He put balls up and over the plate. I'm hoping it will get better his next time out."

Molina homered off Donnie Veal, the Rule 5 pick making his major league debut, to open the fifth, and the Cardinals moved ahead, 9-1, never to look back.

Sanchez's two-run home run in the sixth accounted for the rest of the Pirates' offense.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog .


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