DENVER — Albert Pujols' daredevil dash from second base on a groundout was the final and most dramatic turn in a see-saw duel that the Cardinals had to win several times over against Colorado on Monday.
A game that saw a rookie's debut, a birthday to forget and four lead changes ended when the Cardinals didn't yield to the opportunities they had to lose the game. Pujols seized his one opportunity to win it.
The Cardinals prevailed 6-5 at Coors Field when Pujols ran farther than Rick Ankiel's groundout in the ninth inning traveled.
Cards 6, Rockies 5
"You need to take that chance," Pujols said. "You need to be aggressive playing the game, and that's what I did. ... We battled and we played hard. We didn't give up on the game."
On second base after a one-out double down the right-field line, Pujols saw a chance to steal third base on Colorado reliever Brian Fuentes. When Ankiel chopped a grounder to second baseman Jonathan Herrera, Pujols hesitated only long enough at third to see Herrera throw to first for the obvious play.
Then the race was on.
Pujols sprinted home to beat the throw and catcher Yorvit Torrealba's tag to snap a 5-5 tie. Herrera said he heard his teammates yelling to throw home, but he wasn't in position to. Third baseman Troy Glaus guessed why Pujols got the drop on them: "invisibility cloak," he joked.
Pujols' bold run was the fourth time the Cardinals had rallied to tie the game or take a lead, and Jason Isringhausen worked a scoreless ninth inning to make sure it was the last. Isringhausen's league-best 11th save of the season — and his second in as many nights — meant the Cardinals' fifth victory in their past six games.
"There were a lot of places in that game where we could have given in and said, 'Tonight, it's not our night,'" manager Tony La Russa said. "But we never backed off."
After exchanging leads with Colorado through the early innings, the Cardinals turned to Ron Villone and rookie Mike Parisi to halt the Rockies. The bullpen had to cover at least six innings because starter Joel Pineiro got only three batters into the third inning before leaving the game, ushered out abruptly after two fielding errors by birthday boy Chris Duncan erased the runs Pineiro had just provided with his own double.
Villone ran his streak to 11 2/3 scoreless innings with a couple of spotless frames in relief of Pineiro. Villone shepherded the Cardinals out of trouble in the fourth inning and, with two runners on, struck out lefty Brad Hawpe, who had driven in two of the Rockies' first three runs. Parisi made his major-league debut with a tie score in the sixth inning. He worked two scoreless innings, with help from a tumbling catch at the warning track by Ankiel.
With runners on in his second inning and the score still tied, the rookie righthander had to reacquaint himself with his surroundings.
"This is a mound," he said. "There's the plate. It's still 60 feet, 6 inches. Just like always. Here we go."
Ryan Ludwick's pinch-hit double in the eighth briefly made a winner of Parisi. The lead would have been two runs had home-plate umpire Bob Davidson not called Yadier Molina out at the plate when then-catcher Chris Iannetta appeared to swipe a tag without touching Molina. Though he argued at the time, La Russa later excused the call by saying Davidson "didn't have the benefit of replay and things were moving."
Things were moving all game.
Every lead was answered, until the final one. So many rallies were squelched, until Pujols created one.
"I am not a fast runner," Pujols said. "But I take advantage of every situation when I'm on the bases."
Almost lost in the plot twists of the late innings was what La Russa said the dugout dubbed "the at-bat of the year." Batting in the fourth inning with two runners on, Pineiro swung awkwardly at the first pitch from Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Pineiro took the 95 mph fastball to the right forearm, but because he swung it was ruled a strike and the Cardinals pitcher had to continue the at-bat.
Pineiro started the year 0 for eight with eight strikeouts at the plate, and he received a mocking standing ovation from teammates for putting the ball in play his first time. But unfazed by Jimenez's pure — and often untamed — velocity, Pineiro worked a 10-pitch at-bat. Pineiro fell behind 0-2 on two swinging strikes. All four of the pitches he fouled off to stay alive seared the strike zone at 94 mph or faster.
On the 10th pitch, another fastball, Pineiro dropped a double down the left-field line to score both runners. Pineiro's first extra-base hit since 2004 drove in his first runs since 2002, and with one swing he doubled his career total of RBIs.
Duncan's two errors in left erased that lead.
But the Cardinals would take two more leads, including the one Pujols conjured from the most routine of groundballs.