ST. LOUIS -- Call it a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. And Aaron Harang could not resist challenging Albert Pujols, who, in turn, could not resist making him pay for it. In a night of dueling complete games from the starting pitchers, Harang was good. But Chris Carpenter was sensational and had Pujols as his tag-team partner. In the Reds' 3-1 loss to the Cardinals, Carpenter faced one batter over the minimum, and all three runs in his support came courtesy of Pujols. "It seems like every time me and Carpenter face each other, it's a battle of who makes the fewest mistakes," Harang said.
It was Harang (5-6) who made two big ones -- both to Pujols. With two outs and a runner on first base in the third inning, Pujols slugged a first-pitch fastball from Harang 431 feet and over the left-center-field fence. In the sixth, after Colby Rasmus led off with a single, Pujols jumped on another first pitch and drove a RBI double off the left-field wall. Game over. "I wanted it out a little more. It stayed middle," Harang said of the home run pitch. "Just add another two or three inches, and it might have been a fly ball to center field. It's the way he's swinging right now. He's being aggressive. He wouldn't let me get into any counts on him. He knows I'm going to go right at him and not nitpick. He took advantage of that." Reds manager Dusty Baker didn't view pitching around Pujols, who is batting .346 with 17 homers and 48 RBIs this season, as a viable option. "What are you going to do?" Baker said. "You can't walk him when you have a runner on first base. [Next batter Ryan] Ludwick isn't swinging well right now, but he hit 37 home runs last year." Entering the night, Pujols was hitting .280 in 50 career at-bats vs. Harang, which, by Pujols' standards, isn't that good. Harang has now given up at least one homer in each of his past eight starts. "You have to challenge him, and you win some and lose some with him," said Harang, who gave up all three runs on eight hits over his eight innings with two walks and four strikeouts. He also induced four inning-ending double plays "He's going to get his hits off you. They were big ones tonight." The last time the Reds were involved in a game in which each pitcher threw a complete game, Harang beat Carpenter, 1-0, on Aug. 26, 2004, at old Busch Stadium. "I remember that one," Harang said. "Sean Casey hit a solo home run, and we beat them, 1-0." Carpenter (4-0, 0.71 ERA) has allowed all of three earned runs in six starts this season. He faced only 28 Reds batters and threw 95 pitches. The batter which kept him from facing the minimum was Laynce Nix, who slugged a two-out home run to right field to get three long balls in the last two nights. The only other hits off Carpenter were singles by Chris Dickerson in the first and fourth innings. Both times, Dickerson was erased by inning-ending 5-4-3 double plays by Brandon Phillips. Carpenter struck out three batters. "There's not a whole bunch we could have done about that game tonight," Baker said. "The whole night was Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter." No matter what the outcome was on Thursday, the Reds would be flying home from a losing seven-game road trip. But one more win would have meant a 3-4 record on the trip, which considering how it started, they would have gladly accepted like mice in a Wisconsin cheese factory. Now Cincinnati has to settle for 2-5. The trip began by being swept in a three-game series by the Brewers at Miller Park. Along the way, they lost first baseman Joey Votto to the disabled list with a stress-related issue, Willy Taveras because of a sore hamstring, Edinson Volquez with elbow tendinitis and Jerry Hairston Jr. for two games because of the flu. "We have to forget about the three [in Milwaukee] and just figure that we split [four] here with them in a place where they're tough at home," Baker said. "They've always been tough at home." The Reds were 1-5 at Busch Stadium last season. Despite the rough trip, they only lost one game in standings and sit 2 1/2 games back behind the co-leaders of the National League Central -- the Cardinals and Brewers. The Reds head home for three games against the Cubs before starting another six-game road trip. "It's definitely a grind when you have patch-up lineups every time out," Harang said. "It's going to eventually wear on you. Guys have been doing great staying in there and going where Dusty is putting them. Everybody has a good attitude in here, which is huge for us right now."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.