ST. LOUIS -- With a first-inning single, Matt Carpenter claimed the Busch Stadium III single-season record for most hits with his 99th on Sunday. Albert Pujols previously held the ballpark record with 98 hits in 2008, which Carpenter tied Friday.
And the 27-year-old second baseman didn't stop there in the Cardinals' 9-2 win over the Pirates. A double in the second made him the first Cardinals player to collect 100 or more hits at home since Pujols (111) and Edgar Renteria (103) did it in 2003.
"It's definitely quite a thrill to hear your name in the same sentence with some of these guys," Carpenter said. "But for me, there's nothing bigger than this weekend against the Pirates. That's why we play, that's why I play is to win ballgames, and we're doing that. It's just a lot of fun."
The ballpark record is just the latest in a long line of statistical achievements for Carpenter this year, his second full season in the Majors. The All-Star second baseman is also closing in on the stadium record for doubles, trailing Scott Rolen's 29 in 2006 by two. He is first in the National League in hits (174), doubles (48) and multihit games (56). He also leads the Majors with 112 runs.
If you ask manager Mike Matheny, Carpenter has played his way into the NL MVP conversation.
"I don't think you can leave him out," Matheny said. "He's won over the respect and admiration of the league, the fans and absolutely this clubhouse."
Cardinals encouraged by Freese's play recently
ST. LOUIS -- After hitting just one homer in 59 games (189 at-bats) from June 26 to Sept. 4, David Freese has gone deep twice in three days. And manager Mike Matheny isn't surprised his third baseman is turning it on this time of the year.
"He's a big-game player," Matheny said. "I think he's a winning player. I'm excited to see some of the things that I'm seeing from him right now."
Freese, best known for his walk-off homer in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, is having his worst statistical season at the plate. He's batting a career-low .263 entering Sunday, and Matheny said Freese hadn't been moving as well at third base as he normally does, prompting a platoon situation with rookie Kolten Wong starting some games at second while Matt Carpenter slid over to third.
"I don't know what exactly he was dealing with there, just you could tell he was a click off, a step short," Matheny said, declining to label it as either a health or fatigue issue. "[He] tried to make good moves left, right, and it just didn't seem like his body was doing what he wanted to do."
Whatever it was that was hindering Freese's defensive mobility, Matheny believes it's in the past. Freese started his fourth consecutive game on Sunday. He's batting 3-for-8 with two homers, three RBIs and two walks in his past three games.
"I think we've been able to give him a little bit of time here lately, something that he didn't really want," Matheny said. "Maybe it's helping. I don't know. But right now, this looks like the David Freese that we've been used to watching around here."
If Freese keeps this up, he should resume his place as an everyday player, pushing Wong, rated the Cardinals' No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, to mostly a reserve role.
"This isn't about exposure [for Wong], taking a test drive here. This is about what's going to give us the best chance to win today," Matheny said. "David is going to be in there and a big part of our lineup. He's a production player, and especially when you put into the equation the fact that an Allen Craig is on the sideline right now, we need some guys to produce."
Perez developing his English skills in Majors
ST. LOUIS -- The most significant hurdle for Audry Perez hasn't been at the plate or even behind it as the rookie catcher adjusts to his first stint in the big leagues -- it's been English.
The 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic is making strides at breaking down the language barrier that stands between him and a predominantly English-speaking pitching staff.
"It's so important to be on the same page," said Perez, who practices his second language with teammates in the bullpen like he often did with Triple-A Memphis.
Perez took English classes when he was playing for Double-A Springfield, and manager Mike Matheny said Perez and other Spanish-speaking players like Carlos Martinez work with the teaching software Rosetta Stone almost daily.
"It's tough for them as they're in here listening to the meetings and they're trying to understand the language while they're also trying to comprehend what a game plan might be," Matheny said, noting the importance of also having two bilingual and experienced catchers in Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz.
"For Audry, I think it's going to be more gaining confidence of his staff. ... You better be able to communicate in a way that shows you know what you're talking about and that you listen and you can hear what they're trying to do and be able to comprehend and make the adjustments on the fly."
With his language skills improving daily, Perez is eager to put those skills to use as he awaits his Major League debut.
"I stay ready," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen, maybe for an at-bat or defense. I'm ready."
"He's showed up here just bright eyed and bushy tailed," Matheny said. "He's sprinting back and forth and catching every bullpen. He hasn't stopped smiling since he's been here. It's just a great reward for a kid that's put in the work."
• Craig showed progress Sunday, walking on his sprained left foot without a walking boot.
• The Cardinals' short-season Class A affiliate, the State College Spikes, forced a Game 3 in the New York-Penn League Semifinal Series with a win over the Jamestown Jammers on Saturday.
Third baseman Carson Kelly, a second-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, homered in the fifth and chipped in a two-run double in the sixth to help keep the Spikes' season alive.
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.