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06/19/07 1:04 AM ET

Royals strike early in win

Kansas City tallies five runs in first four innings

ST. LOUIS -- Luke Hudson walked up to Odalis Perez in the middle of the clubhouse and gave him a high-five, congratulating Perez for a solid performance on Monday night. The gesture punctuated Perez's quality start -- and clutch pitching in several key situations -- that yielded a victory, 5-3, over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Everything started with Perez, who kept his career-long nemesis leashed for six innings en route to his second victory since April 25. Perez, who entered the game without a quality start in his last four outings, allowed just three runs against the high-octane Redbirds -- a team that has crushed him in his career.

Perez entered the game with a 9.32 career ERA against the Cardinals, including suffering a loss after allowing six earned runs in three-plus innings against St. Louis last week at Kauffman Stadium. On Monday, Perez dodged several jams and received help from a tremendous defensive play by Alex Gordon.

"I think more than anything with Odalis is that he mixes it up and uses both sides of the plate," manager Buddy Bell said. "I think he was using the outer half much more than he did the other night because he had better command. I think he was just changing speeds, that's his forte and being on the edges more than in the middle."

Perez's pitching allowed the Royals to set up a bullpen that is finally healthy and finally able to pitch in specific roles. Against St. Louis, the relief corps yielded three shutout innings from David Riske, Joakim Soria and Octavio Dotel. In the past three games, the starting pitching has worked 22 innings, setting up a bullpen that has fashioned a 1.74 ERA.

"If you can go six innings, you know the bullpen will take care of the rest of the game," Perez said.

Dotel's sixth save in six chances moved the Royals to 9-4 in Interleague Play, tied for the most wins by any American League team. The team (29-42) is 13 games under .500 for the first time since May 27.

And Perez provided plenty of help, corralling a Redbirds lineup that scored 28 runs versus the pitching-rich Athletics during their weekend series.

"I think he worked both sides of the plate today, " catcher John Buck said. "He was hammering with that outside corner and countering with that cutter in."

Perez survived several key situations, delivering two rally-killing, double-play grounders from Juan Encarnacion in the first and fifth innings. Both of the DPs followed intentional walks to Albert Pujols that loaded the bases. But Perez wasn't going to pitch to Pujols, arguably the best hitter in baseball and a hitter who entered Monday with an astronomical .684 (13-for-19) batting average with five homers and 15 RBIs in his career against Perez.

"Those were the big ones," Perez said of the double plays. "Pujols is the best guy in the lineup. It really was good to put him on base and load the bases and pitch to Encarnacion."

Sandwiched between those plays, though, was an incredible defensive gem from Gordon and a huge, unexpected strikeout.

Guarding a 3-1 lead in the third, Perez walked pitcher Adam Wainwright to start the inning and So Taguchi hit a high-hopping ground ball to Gordon. The rookie turned, gloved the ball over his head, swiveled and threw a strike to first base for the out.

"It doesn't get any better than that," Bell, a former Gold Glover, said. "The instinct that you have to have to understand the timing of where you are at, is probably more impressive than the throw. ... That's as good as it gets. I haven't seen a play like that in a long time."

"It's all reaction," Gordon added.

Scott Spiezio grounded out, moving Wainwright to third base and bringing Pujols to the plate, representing the tying run. But Perez struck out Pujols swinging on a pitch in the dirt -- the first time El Hombre has ever struck out against Perez in his career.

"He is not afraid -- and it probably drives him nuts as much as me -- to pitch with men on base," Bell said. "He uses their aggressiveness to his advantage at times."

And the offense took care of Perez, scoring five times off Wainwright, the same pitcher who one-hit them five days ago in Kansas City. Buck provided the big blow, hitting his 13th homer of the season and besting his single-season high.

"I am confident at the plate and more aggressive and not being afraid to look bad on a swing," Buck said.

In the fourth, the Royals used a three singles, a sacrifice and a groundout to score two runs and take a 5-2 lead. Perez coaxed the second double play from Encarnacion an inning later and the Cardinals never threatened the rest of the game.

"I was in trouble in three or four innings of the six I pitched, but it was nice to come away with a W," Perez said.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.