PITTSBURGH -- There is no way to know how the Pirates' summer might have played out differently had Ryan Doumit not been involved in that home-plate collision with the Cubs' Carlos Pena back on May 29.
Some would argue that if Doumit had not missed the next 56 games with a fractured left ankle, the Pirates' offense would not have been so quiet. Others would counter that Michael McKenry's defense made up for anything the Pirates lost in the lineup.
Regardless of opinions, Doumit's four-hit night on Monday not only lifted the Pirates to a 6-2 win over the Cardinals at PNC Park, but it served as a tangible reminder of how much impact Doumit's presence can have in a lineup that has been looking for an identity almost all season long.
"We know the value that he can bring to the plate with the offense," said manager Clint Hurdle, who batted Doumit seventh on Monday. "We know what McKenry can bring behind the plate with the defense. We're just trying to match them up and use them both to make it strong back there."
Doumit, who had three hits in five previous at-bats against Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook, earned Monday's start as a result of that prior success. He ended up with hits in all three at-bats against Westbrook, with the biggest knock of the evening coming in the fourth.
The Pirates' early one-run lead -- a byproduct of Xavier Paul's first-inning homer -- had been erased by the time Pittsburgh came to bat in the fourth. Neil Walker snapped an 0-for-22 skid with a leadoff single. Garrett Jones followed with another.
Two pitches later, Doumit drove the ball into the right-field bleachers to give Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead. The homer was his sixth of the season and second since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 3.
"That pretty much," Walker said, "was the most important part of the game."
Doumit's sixth-inning single put the Pirates in position to score one final run off Westbrook, who was chased from his start before the end of the frame.
"He's definitely comfortable against me," Westbrook said. "[I'm] pretty sure I've tried everything. ... He did a good job of hitting that hanging curveball. I didn't really make any good pitches against him. To his credit, he took advantage of that."
Doumit capped his night with an eighth-inning hit off Mitchell Boggs. The four hits give Doumit 10 in 23 at-bats since returning from the ankle injury. He has made six starts since rejoining the club.
"It's nice to get off to the kind of start that I have, considering my rehab start didn't go particularly how I wanted it to," said Doumit, who had eight hits in 40 rehab at-bats. "I've been very fortunate that it's worked out for me. I'm just riding the wave right now."
Both Paul and Walker joined Doumit with multihit games. For Walker, the pair of hits was especially encouraging, given that it meant he'd finish with more hits on Monday than he had in six starts on the team's last road trip.
Walker, who went 1-for-22 on that trip, extended the Pirates' lead to four with his two-out RBI double in the seventh.
"I felt like I was not swinging the bat so terribly that I should be concerned," Walker said. "I went back and looked at my at-bats, and the only thing I was doing was getting myself out. I wasn't missing pitches. I wasn't late. It was just pitch selection."
All the offense rewarded starter James McDonald with his eighth win of the year. McDonald allowed two-out RBI hits to Rafael Furcal and David Freese, but otherwise held St. Louis off the scoreboard in a 92-pitch, 5 2/3-inning outing.
Freese's single in the sixth brought the score to 4-2 and prompted Hurdle to turn to his bullpen. Jason Grilli came in and retired Yadier Molina with two runners on to preserve the lead.
"I felt pretty good," McDonald said. "A couple big hits for them with two outs, but other than that, I feel like I competed pretty well."
Perhaps the biggest deficiency in McDonald's effort was again the length of the outing. This marked the 11th time in 24 starts that the right-hander has been unable to finish at least six innings.
McDonald has made significant improvements -- including the addition of a slider, which was on display again on Monday -- since a shaky first six weeks of the season. But efficiency and pitching deeper into starts should remain on the to-do list.
The Pirates' bullpen sealed the victory with 3 1/3 scoreless innings, though sandwiched in there was a key matchup against Albert Pujols in a potentially game-changing situation.
Daniel McCutchen allowed a two-out hit and four-pitch walk in the seventh that brought Pujols to the plate as the tying run. Jose Veras entered to face Pujols and struck the slugger out on an inside curveball.
The decisive curveball came on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
"We all know that [Pujols] is up there to do damage," Doumit said. "We went with his curveball because we thought that was his best chance to get him off-balance."
"He earned his money tonight," Hurdle said of Veras. "Not that he doesn't earn his money every night, but he definitely earned his way tonight."
Veras followed with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Joel Hanrahan pitched the ninth. Though Hanrahan didn't earn a save, he did ensure that the Pirates would match their win total from all of 2010. Monday's victory was the team's 57th of the year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.