ST. LOUIS -- The bouncer was bound to see its way through the infield.
After all, it was hit by Albert Pujols, and hitters of his ilk find ways to end slumps with a towering home run or a dribbler through the infield.
Pujols pushed a seventh-inning RBI single through the left side of the Pirates' infield to lift his team to a 3-2 victory Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
"Got a two-hopper, found a hole," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of the opportune hit in a game in which the Pirates wasted many opportunies by striking out 11 times.
Pujols, a noted Pirates nemesis, was 0 for 4 in the series with two walks and a sacrifice fly -- a vast difference from his .372 batting average with 45 home runs and 134 RBIs in his previous 157 games against the Pirates.
Pujols' single capped a seventh in which reliever Garrett Olson's one-out walk to Ryan Theriot came back to haunt fellow reliever Chris Resop, who followed Olson and gave up Pujols' hit.
Game: Pirates vs. Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis.
TV, radio: Root Sports, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Kevin Correia (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Carpenter (0-0, 2.57).
Key matchup: Any of the Pirates pitchers vs. Albert Pujols. Coming into this series, he was hitting .374 lifetime against the Pirates with 45 home runs in 580 at-bats. He had also scored 132 runs in 156 games.
Of note: Correia's ERA spikes in day games. In afternoon starts, he has a career 4.97 ERA, while in night games, he carries a 4.37 ERA.
"Late in the game, walks don't help," Hurdle said. "They usually hurt. And the walk to Theriot hurt. ... Chris [Resop] made a good pitch to Pujols."
But Pujols did a better job of turning it into a hit.
It was a game in which the Pirates went ahead on a big swing, when first baseman Lyle Overbay sat on an offspeed pitch in the first inning and swatted it into the Cardinals' bullpen -- 421 feet from home plate over the right-centerfield wall -- to create a 2-0 lead.
It was Overbay's first home run with his new team, and it reflected the kind of power that led to the Pirates signing him in the offseason as a free agent from Toronto. It also showed why Hurdle made him the cleanup hitter in spring training and rolled the decision into the regular-season.
Three batters before Overbay's home run, Jose Tabata led off by stretching a punched liner into center field into a double with considerable risk, sliding in just before the throw.
That wasn't the start the Cardinals were seeking from Kyle McClellan, making his first start after being used in his first three seasons as a reliever.
But McClellan settled in from there, working six innings and, after the double to Tabata and Overbay's home run, yielded only four more hits and struck out seven.
"Very good," Hurdle said of McClellan. "He hung the breaking ball to Overbay in the first inning, but after that he was sharp."
Not just that, but the Cardinals fought back for him.
In the fourth, when Pirates starter James McDonald's pitch count drifted above 60 pitches, he left a fastball belt-high to Lance Berkman, who hit it off the wall in left center. Allen Craig drove Berkman in with a single to center to pull the Cardinals within 2-1.
After Craig's single, McDonald issued a walk before getting Skip Schumaker to roll into double play and striking out Gerald Laird.
McDonald, pitching for the first time in a major league game since a March 11 side injury in spring training, battled back in the fourth, but couldn't claw his way out of the fifth.
Two consecutive one-out singles and a sacrifice fly from Pujols made it 2-2 and knocked McDonald from the game with two out in the fifth.
McDonald's line in his first start of the 2011 season: 42/3 innings, two earned runs, four walks and four strikeouts on 87 pitches.
In the seventh, the Pirates put themselves in prime position to score the go-ahead run, but Ronny Cedeno and pinch-hitter John Bowker killed a potential rally with lazy fly outs.
Another chance arose in the eighth, but Pedro Alvarez struck out looking with two men on. It was his third strikeout of the night, and he also hit into a double play.
It did not surprise Hurdle that Pujols found a way to drive in that final run -- even if it was with a little bouncer.
"It surprises everybody more when he struggles," Hurdle said of Pujols.
"Him getting hits and driving in runs, that never surprises people."
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published April 6, 2011 4:45 AM