CINCINNATI — It was too much of Big Albert.
That summed up the Reds’ struggles on Opening Day.
Three-time MVP Albert Pujols went 4 for 5 with two home runs and three RBIs to power the St. Louis Cardinals to an 11-6 victory Monday over the Reds on a muggy, 78-degree day at the Great American Ball Park. The opener was played before a sell-out crowd of 42,493 fans.
Pujols launched a solo home run to center in the first inning to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead, and they would lead the rest of the way. Pujols added a two-run homer in the seventh to kick the Cardinals’ lead to 6-2.
“He isn’t .800 (for his career), somebody’s getting him out,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He started off hot.”
Added Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, “He’s (Pujols) one of the best hitters of all time and he killed us.”
It marks the third straight loss for the Reds on Opening Day.
The Cardinals led 3-0 in the fourth before the Reds closed the gap to 3-2 after four. The Cardinals led 6-4 after eight before blowing it open with a five-run ninth to make it 11-4.
The Cardinals ended up with four home runs.
“The long ball was a killer,” Baker said. “It was warm and the ball was carrying. … I don’t know if it’s ever been this hot in Ohio this early.’
Over the first three innings, Harang did a good job of getting ahead in the count with his 94 mph fastball, 84 mph slider and 77 mph breaking ball.
But by the fourth, he started leaving a few balls up in the zone.
Overall, however, Baker was pleased with the way Harang threw.
He went five innings and gave up four runs, three earned, on five hits. He walked two and struck out two. Harang threw 93 pitches, 56 for strikes.
Harang is coming off a season in which he went 6-14 with a 4.21 ERA. He also had a 9.88 ERA in spring training.
“He was throwing 93, 94 early and had a great slider,” Baker said. “He left a fastball up on Albert the first time, but he was throwing the ball well today. He was throwing it a whole better than last year.”
Harang said, “I was throwing some good breaking balls and some good change-ups. Overall, I felt like the ball was coming out well.”
The real problem for the Reds was the bullpen, which ranked third in the league in ERA last year. Mike Lincoln tossed a shutout sixth, then gave up two runs in his second inning after giving up a two-run homer to Pujols.
Nick Masset gave up five runs in the eighth, including a grand slam home run by Yadier Molina to put the exclamation point on the game at 11-4.
In the top of the fourth, left-handed hitting Colby Rasmus hammered a 0-1 pitch halfway up the moon deck in right field for a solo home run. That gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter was in command early on the balmy day. Carpenter was zipping strikes with his 94 mph fastball and change-up.
But in the fourth, Carpenter ran into trouble, as well.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto got one run back for the Reds in the fourth. Votto went the other way with a 1-0 hanging slider and drilled it into the left-field bleachers, 397-feet away, to make it 3-1.
Scott Rolen jumped on a first-pitch, 94 mph fastball from Carpenter and slammed it into the left-field bleachers to get the Reds within 3-2.
Votto ended up 3 for 5 with an RBI, while Phillips was 1 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. Drew Stubbs came off the bench to go 2 for 2 with an RBI.
The Cardinals added a run in the fifth, to make it 4-2, on a wild-pickoff throw to first by Harang, which allowed Pujols to score from third.
Rolen just missed a second home run in the home sixth when Rasmus in center leaped over the center-field fence to rob the Reds third baseman.
“I’m not going to be real critical or overanalyze anything today,” Rolen said. “I thought we took good at-bats and had a warm day when the ball was flying around a little bit. We’ll try to level it out for 161 now.”
Carpenter went six innings and gave up two runs, both earned, on five hits. He struck out three and walked none. He threw 88 pitches, 55 for strikes.
The Reds’ Juan Francisco had an RBI single to the seventh to get the Reds within 6-3. Stubbs’ RBI infield single in the eighth made it 6-4.
Game 2 is set for 7:10 p.m. Wednesday against the Cardinals.
“It’s just one game and we learn from the mistakes we made today,” Phillips said. “We have to score runs early so we can give confidence to our pitchers.”
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