video thumbnail

Craig puts Cardinals on top with an RBI double

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals were all but begging to come home 11 days ago, bullish in their insistence that a stretch of home games would jolt this club from its early-season mediocrity.

Those would not be empty claims.

With a 4-2 win over the D-backs in front of 40,787 at Busch Stadium on Thursday night, the Cardinals capped a 7-2 homestand with their first series sweep. A team that arrived home last week stuck at .500 now sits a season-best five games above. There's been substantial carving into Milwaukee's National League Central lead, too, which now stands at just 1 1/2 games.

For the first time all season, the Cardinals have sustained success.

"I think we're starting to see a glimpse here of a good look, really, at what we can do," manager Mike Matheny said. "You're seeing good defensive plays, very consistent pitching, and you're starting to see those big hits. We had the big two-out hits today, those sorts of things we believe we can do. It's nice not just to believe it, but to actually see it."

Indeed, the formula was hardly complex. The Cardinals got on track with continued strong starting pitching and timely offensive support. In all but one of the nine games this homestand, the team's starter went at least six innings. Only twice did he give up more than two runs.

Lance Lynn was not an exception to either on Thursday, as he limited the D-backs to two first-inning runs while carrying the Cardinals through six innings. He was plenty fresh to start the seventh, but a run-scoring opportunity in the bottom of the sixth prodded Matheny to pinch-hit for Lynn and go for the lead.

The Cardinals didn't get it then, but would an inning later.

"You don't ever expect to ever be right around .500 with the club we have," Lynn said. "For us to come home and to have our first real homestand go like this, it's good for us."

Allen Craig drove home the go-ahead run in the seventh off Arizona lefty Wade Miley. A two-out walk to Matt Holliday extended the inning and drew D-backs manager Kirk Gibson out of the dugout for a mound visit. Gibson stuck with Miley, a move that backfired when Craig split the outfielders with a double to right-center.

Holliday, who has reached base in all 21 home games this season, scored from first without a play.

"I was trying to go in. It was down, just down the middle," Miley said. "That's what he's trying to do. He's diving a little bit, just trying to hit the ball the other way."

Perhaps it's no coincidence, either, that as Craig has gotten hot, so have the Cardinals. He finished this series with consecutive multihit games and drove in a run in five games this homestand.

Two-out scoring was also behind each of the Cardinals' wins in this series. All five of Tuesday's runs were scored in such spots, as was another in Wednesday's one-run victory. The four runs scored on Thursday also came with two outs.

"Last year we were really good with the two-out hit and with runners in scoring position," Craig said. "I think that things are going to turn around in that department. We have too many good hitters to leave guys out there, and two-out hits are part of what we do."

Shane Robinson, a day after rejoining the big league club, was in the middle of much of the offense's noise. Matheny gave Robinson a rare start, hoping to tap into success that the outfielder was having in Triple-A. Robinson, 11-for-21 against lefties during his 18-game hiatus with Memphis, responded by igniting the offense.

He helped the Cardinals load the bases in the second with a single, though that inning stalled at Lynn's spot in the order. Robinson then doubled home the tying runs with a double in the sixth, an inning extended by Jhonny Peralta's two-out double.

Robinson singled and scored on Matt Carpenter's bloop single in the eighth to cushion the lead for Trevor Rosenthal, who collected save No. 14.

The Cardinals, who opened the homestand averaging 3.68 runs per game, scored at least four runs in eight of their last nine games.

"It was good to get in there early and help the club get a win tonight," Robinson said. "My swing feels pretty good right now. I had a chance to work on it down there [in Memphis]. I think it helped."

The late runs made a winner of reliever Pat Neshek, who contributed his 18th consecutive scoreless appearance. He was efficient enough in the seventh to also be given the eighth, which allowed Matheny to rest several relievers who had pitched in Wednesday's extra-inning game.

Lynn kept the game close by minimizing the damage during a rough first inning. Arizona's first three batters reached with singles and a walk. Aaron Hill followed with a sacrifice fly to put the D-backs ahead, 2-0. But Lynn maneuvered his way out of more trouble in the 30-pitch inning and needed only 18 pitches to get through the next two.

"I left a few balls up in the first and I walked a guy," Lynn said. "It was kind of everything at once, but then I was able to regroup and with our offense, you keep them at two, you have a chance to win."

Also key was his ability to wiggle out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fourth using two strikeouts and a groundout. The D-backs would not get another runner into scoring position all night.

The Cardinals, now 14-7 at home, have a quick weekend jaunt to Cincinnati before returning home for another nine games.

"It was a great homestand," Craig said. "It was good to finish it off with three in a row. We played really good baseball. We just have to keep it rolling."

MLB.com Comments