The good news is that Chris Carpenter broke a trend of back-to-back games in which he gave up 10 hits.
The bad news is that he gave up 13 of them, allowing four Cubs runs over seven innings. But Daniel Descalso hit a two-out, two-strike single to drive in a pair of runs and -- finally -- give the Redbirds ace his first win of 2011 by 6-4 margin.
Most of Carpenter's troubles happened in a 35-pitch first inning. He threw 20 offerings before he recorded an out and was lucky to escape down only 2-1 thanks to the help of a double play. Substitute manager Joe Pettini seemed to leave Carp in too long, letting him roll over the 100 pitch mark in the seventh inning as he squandered a two-run lead and lost a chance to get his first victory of the season while Jason Motte stood ready in the bullpen.
But third baseman Daniel Descalso got a two-out hit in the top of the eight to restore the St. Louis lead. Pujols singled and Holliday walked Lance Berkman hit a fly ball to rightfield. Pujols tagged up and went to third, drawing a throw. Pujols popped up after arriving at the next station and immediately turned to see if Holliday took second on the throw. When he saw the St. Louis clean-up hitter standing on second, Pujols vigorously clapped his hands. The move set up Descalso's game winner when the Cubs walked St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina to pitch to the young utility infielder.
The Cardinals could have had a larger cushion as Carpenter entered his last inning. Umpires, according to instant replays, mistakenly called out Nick Punto for leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly. Matt Holliday, who drove in the Birds' first run in the first inning, couldn't help the Cardinals to another later in the game when Albert Pujols doubled to lead off and Holliday couldn't move him to third.
Eduardo Sanchez came in to get the last three outs -- the first two easily. Then he issued a walk to bring the tying run to the plate. But a fly out to right ended the game and helped the Birds preserve a one-game lead over the Reds who beat the Astros.
Albert Pujols, the sudden subject of Cubs fans' affections since he's a pending free agent, chit chatted with the Wee Bears GM on the field during batting practice and then (raised eyebrow) exchanged a lingering hug. Pujols, who entered the game hitting a disturbing .248, then went on to collect four hits in five at bats.
Holliday, who has historically hit poorly at Wrigley Field, was 1-for-4 on the night with three strikeouts.
Cardinals Star of the Game: Descalso
Cardinals Play of the Game: Descalso's go-ahead single
Lowlight: Ryan Theriot's return to Wrigley Field where he previously played for the Cubs was a bust. He was 0-4 at the plate with a strikeout and three runners stranded on base. He was booed vigorously all night for comments about being on the "right side of the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry" after his trade to St. Louis despite comments on a Chicago radio station earlier in the day that were critical of the sophistication of St. Louis fans.