DENVER - Albert Pujols usually wins games with his power, not his wheels.
A hustling Pujols scored from second base on a groundout in the ninth inning, lifting the St. Louis Cardinals to a 6-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.
"I didn't know he was that fast," St. Louis starting pitcher Joel Pineiro said. "He looked fast there."
That's what working with Lou Brock will do for a player. Pujols may never steal 30 bases in a season, but he's learned how to run the bases intelligently from the Hall of Fame outfielder.
Pujols, who was standing on second after a one-out double, was off on contact as Rick Ankiel grounded out to second baseman Jonathan Herrera.
When Herrera lofted a throw to Todd Helton, Pujols kicked it into fifth gear heading around third, and slid just out of the reach of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who lunged forward in an effort to tag him.
"It's something you don't practice; it just happens," said Pujols, who went 1-for-4 and has reached base safely in all 33 games this season. "Hopefully, you get lucky and don't get thrown out. If you get (unlucky) and get thrown out, you're in trouble with the manager."
In this case, the manager didn't have a problem with his star's aggressive baserunning. Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa applauded his slugger taking a chance - even more so since he was safe.
"Albert's very savvy," La Russa said. "It's him being a very, very smart player."
Herrera was simply concentrating on getting the out at first, never even thinking that Pujols would try to score.
"They yelled to throw home and I wasn't ready," Herrera said. "I didn't see him go home right away. I had already turned."
Part of the reason Pujols took the chance was because crafty left-hander Brian Fuentes was on the mound. Runs come at a premium against Fuentes (0-2).
"He's pretty much one of the best in the game right now," Pujols said. "To see the ball off his hand, it's pretty tough. You need to take the chance."
Randy Flores (1-0) earned the win after working out of a jam in the eighth, and Jason Isringhausen pitched the ninth for his 11th save in 14 chances. He enticed Garrett Atkins into a 5-4-3 double play after Helton drew a one-out walk.
Ryan Ludwick's pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth gave St. Louis a 5-4 lead. The Cardinals thought they had another run when Yadier Molina raced home on a chopper to second, but he was called out by plate umpire Bob Davidson. Molina and La Russa briefly argued the call to no avail.
Rockies manager Clint Hurdle conceded after the game that his team caught a break.
"I thought Pujols was safe and I thought Molina was safe," Hurdle said.
The Rockies tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when pinch-hitter Ryan Spilborghs' check-swing single in front of Flores scored pinch-runner Willy Taveras. Flores then struck out Torrealba and Omar Quintanilla to end the rally.
The Rockies learned a lesson - respect Pujols' legs. Not that they hadn't already.
"He gets a lot of recognition for swinging the bat, but he plays a good defensive side of the diamond also and he's an aggressive baserunner," Hurdle said. "In a perfect world, maybe you grab the ball and pick up the runner. But it was such a slow roller that he's thinking a guy might stay. It's the way things are going for us right now."
Pineiro, batting eighth in the Cardinals' lineup, laced a two-run double to left with two outs in the fourth for his first hit of the season. It also doubled Pineiro's lifetime RBI total.
On the mound, Pineiro didn't fare as well, lasting just three innings, his shortest stint of the season. He allowed three earned runs and eight hits.
"It was one of those days I didn't have my good stuff," he said. "I couldn't get the curveball and changeup down, so I got hit around a little bit."
But Pujols came through at the end.
"I'm not a fast runner, but I take advantage of the situation when I'm on base," he said. "I know how to run the bases. I'm not going to steal 30 bases, but I want to be able to score on a double."
Or, in this case, a grounder that never left the infield.