- The Washington Times - Monday, August 31, 2009

ST. LOUIS | If the Nationals remove the interim tag and bring back Jim Riggleman as manager, he likely will do one thing differently - stop pitching to Albert Pujols.

During a lost weekend against St. Louis, Riggleman twice put a pitcher in the difficult spot of facing Pujols without pitching around him. Each time, Pujols answered with the game-winning hit.

Pujols’ run-scoring single in the sixth inning against Garrett Mock with first base open sent the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory Sunday at Busch Stadium. On Friday, the Cardinals started their way to a three-game series sweep of the Nationals when Pujols crushed a game-winning homer against reliever Jason Bergmann.

“We competed against a really good team,” Riggleman said. “That’s why we are where we are in the standings and why St. Louis is where they are. They find a way to win those games, and we’re not doing that.”

The Nationals pitched to Pujols throughout the series more than most clubs and paid dearly. Pujols, likely headed to his second consecutive National League MVP award, went 5-for-11 with three RBI and only two walks in the series. He has had two or more walks in 24 games this season.

In the opener, Riggelman was reluctant to order an intentional walk because Pujols was leading off the ninth. However, Riggleman certainly did not want Bergmann to try a third consecutive fastball, a middle-of-the-plate job that Pujols pounded.

On Sunday, Riggleman kicked himself for putting Mock in a similar spot.

“I should have just walked them there,” Riggleman said.

The Nationals had a way to duck Pujols when Mock overthrew a 2-2 fastball for a wild pitch, allowing Colby Rasmus to move to second with one out. Rather than go with the intentional walk, Riggleman had Mock tease Pujols with something off the plate.

Mock missed but in a bad location. Rather than put a fastball low and away, he left the pitch high and over the middle. Pujols lined the pitch up the middle for a run-scoring single and a 2-1 lead.

“Fastball up high and he gets it,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “That’s clutch hitting.”

Or bad pitching.

“That pitch is absolutely going to cost me some sleep,” Mock said. “I wasn’t trying to throw the ball there. I wasn’t trying to throw it anywhere he can hit it. I don’t want him to beat me. I’ve got to be better than that.

“He’s not a robot. He’s not going to hit every pitch. But with runners on base, he’s unbelievable.”

That doomed fastball was a rare bad pitch in an otherwise strong performance by Mock. He had a quality start for the third time in his last five outings, allowing the two runs and only five baserunners in six innings.

Mock continued to have success with a hard and sinking fastball, getting seven ground-ball outs. He even made Pujols look bad on a sinker but still could not get him out. With Rasmus running from first, Pujols rolled a sinker about 40 feet up the third-base line for an infield single in the fourth. Rasmus took third on the play and scored on Rick Ankiel’s sacrifice fly.

“I’m very encouraged,” Riggleman said of Mock. “He’s making a lot of progress. He gave us a chance to win.”

So did left-hander John Lannan on Friday, allowing only two runs in eight innings. Right-hander Craig Stammen performed better than his line in Saturday’s loss.

The Nationals were swept because an offense that produced 24 runs in three games at the Chicago Cubs in the previous series produced only seven against the Cardinals. In the finale, the Nationals had only three at-bats with runners in scoring position. Albert Pujols needed only one chance to beat them.

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