ST. LOUIS — Michael Wacha's arm and bat gave the St. Louis Cardinals another needed lift Thursday afternoon.
Wacha allowed two runs (earned) on seven hits in seven innings and lashed a two-run single in the Cardinals' four-run second as they defeated the Chicago Cubs 5-3 at Busch Stadium.
"It's nice to finally have a batting average now," said Wacha, who had been 0-for-14 at the plate. "But definitely pitching deep into the game, I was pretty pleased with that."
Wacha (3-3) walked none and struck out five, winning for the first time since April 13 against the Cubs, also at Busch. Wacha has 14 walks and 62 strikeouts on 54 1/3 innings.
The Cubs' only damage against Wacha came in the fourth when Starlin Castro followed Anthony Rizzo's bunt single with a two-run homer inside the left-field foul pole that made it 4-2.
Wacha closed that inning by striking out three of the final four hitters, and when he was in trouble again in the sixth, he induced Mike Olt to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
Wacha, who threw 104 pitches, 77 for strikes, said it's always important to keep his walks to a minimum. Zero is preferable.
"Walks, they only drive your pitch count up," he said. "I was able to pound the strike zone down in the zone. It was pretty effective keeping them off-balanced pretty much all game."
Trevor Rosenthal recorded five outs for his 11th save, giving the Cardinals (21-20) two out of three in the series.
St. Louis did the bulk of its damage against right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2) in the second. Hammel struck out the side in the first, but after Matt Adams flied out to left to start the second, the Cardinals went to work.
Yadier Molina doubled to right and Allen Craig and Peter Bourjos walked to load the bases. Mark Ellis hit a sharp grounder between first and second that was gloved by a diving Luis Valbuena, whose only play was at first as Molina scored.
Wacha then shot a single to center to score Craig and Bourjos to make it 3-0, and Carpenter drove in Wacha with a double to right.
"It's a kiss of death to strike out the side in the first inning," Hammel said. "Today was probably the best physically I've felt all year. That's the way the game works. Sometimes it doesn't work out. I was able to battle through it and keep us in it for a while.
"I was aggressive but I wasn't quality aggressive. That's where I've got to make my adjustments. A lot of it was just bad timing for misses. I was confident in what I was doing."
After Castro's homer got the Cubs within two, Matt Holliday's double and Yadier Molina's single made it 5-2 in the sixth and knocked Hammel from the game after 106 pitches.
"He wants you to swing at his pitch, kind of nibbles the zone," Carpenter said. "We did a good job of making him work his pitch count up. We were able to get the big knock, and that's been the difference, really, with the season so far --getting guys on and being able to get them in."
Junior Lake's bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth against Rosenthal cut the Cardinals' lead to 5-3, a run charged to Kevin Siegrist. Rosenthal reloaded the bases with a walk to Olt, but pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz grounded out to second.
So, once again, the Cardinals hope they are back on track.
"We have to be relentless and come prepared to fight," Matheny said. "There's not going to be one particular game or one particular big win or big hit that's necessarily going to make it happen. We've got to come in here and grind every single day."