PITTSBURGH — Albert Pujols homered twice, then caught the warm-up pitches when star catcher Yadier Molina made his first pitching appearance to close out the St. Louis Cardinals’ 18-4 fight against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.
Molina allowed a pair of home runs and four runs while working the ninth inning, eventually completing the Cardinals’ three-game sweep.
But it wasn’t all fun and games for St. Louis. Starter Steven Matz lasted only four pitches before being fired with a stiff left shoulder.
It’s been a bumpy start for Matz, a free agent addition this offseason from the Toronto Blue Jays. He entered Sunday’s start with a 3-3 mark and a 6.03 ERA.
“Sometimes things happen,” Matz said. “I felt it a bit in the bullpen. I was trying to get out of it a bit. … Just try to get through that, get some takedowns.”
Pujols upped his career homerun count to 683. Hitting for Nolan Arenado with St. Louis up 11-0 in the fifth inning, Pujols threw a 425-foot drive from the left field roundhouse.
The 42-year-old slugger added a three-run homer in the ninth against Pirates infielder Josh VanMeter in the ninth. Pujols is fifth on the all-time home run list, 13 behind Alex Rodriguez, and his 32 at PNC Park are the most scored by an opposing player.
“I’m here to try to help this ball club as much as possible,” Pujols said. “It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s always been about this Cardinals organization and the impact I can have on the players in the organization. “
Exactly a week after Pujols took the mound for the first time in his big league career, Molina had his turn with St. Louis ahead 18-0. Pujols was behind home plate to warm up his longtime teammate between innings.
Eternal All-Star and Gold Glove standout at catches, Molina, 39, hasn’t done as well throwing them. He gave up a solo homer to Yoshi Tsutsugo and a three-point drive from Jack Suwinski.
“I feel like Yadi was more in control of his fastball [than Pujols]”Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It didn’t go his way. I missed the mid-mid too much.”
Overall, Molina allowed four hits in his only inning, throwing 14 of 20 pitches for strikes, with no strikeouts or walks. Pujols also allowed four runs and two home runs in one inning while finishing a rout of San Francisco last Sunday night.
After Matz came out, Angel Rondon (1-0) came in to take out Ke’Bryan Hayes with his first pitch. Rondon allowed just one hit in five innings for his first major league win, striking out four and walking three.
After being recalled from the taxi squad before the game, Rondon made his third major league appearance and his first since June 12, 2021.
Highly touted prospect Nolan Gorman doubled in the first, giving the Cardinals the lead with his first major league RBI. He had three hits and went 5-for-10 with two doubles in his first major league series.
Tommy Edman also had three of the Cardinals’ 20 hits. He hit two doubles and helped score a second six-pointer against Bryse Wilson (0-3).
Harrison Bader also hit VanMeter, who made his first appearance as a pitcher in the majors and allowed five runs in the ninth. Usually a second baseman and outfielder, VanMeter was fielded as a first-time catcher in an emergency situation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.