SAN FRANCISCO -- After an eight-game dry spell, this felt like a deluge.
The Cardinals waited out an erratic Barry Zito and came up with a string of timely hits en route to an urgently needed 6-1 win over the Giants at AT&T Park on Sunday. The victory ended a three-game losing streak and marked the Cards' greatest offensive output of the season.
Firsts were abundant and welcome for the visitors. David Freese hit his first home run and collected his first, second and third RBIs of the season. Skip Schumaker's double provided his first RBI of the year. Allen Craig doubled for his first extra-base hit and scored his first and second runs. The offense backed eight excellent innings from Kyle Lohse and sent the Cardinals to Arizona on a high note.
Cardinals players had insisted that they knew their offensive woes would give way to success, and erasing some zeros is a good start.
"I was thinking about it," said Schumaker. "I don't think about numbers too much, but I did think about runners in scoring position. I haven't done a good job. ... Me and Freese were talking about it today. We've got to start driving in some guys when we get the chance. Finally we did."
The two infielders, batting sixth and seventh in the order Sunday, delivered the critical hits in a three-run sixth inning that gave the Cardinals the lead for good.
Matt Holliday, returning to the lineup after missing seven games due to an appendectomy, started the rally with a walk against Zito. Allen Craig walked as well, and Freese gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead with a double to left field. Schumaker followed with a double to center that bounced off Aaron Rowand's glove, making it 4-1 and chasing Zito.
For Freese, who came through the Minor Leagues as a power hitter, driving in the first run was quite a relief.
"I think a lot of guys will say no, but I think it is [a big deal]," Freese said. "When you've got zero in some offensive column, to get that out of the way is huge. That's the tough thing about the season, is you just start from scratch. It takes different guys awhile to get going. Hopefully we can just keep this going."
With the sixth-inning outburst, the Redbirds equaled their highest previous single-game run total of the young campaign. It was the first time the 2011 Cardinals had tallied more than twice in a single frame.
"You've got to start somewhere," manager Tony La Russa said. "You build a little momentum and a little confidence, and you build on it. Hopefully this is where it starts."
Zito issued five walks over 5 1/3 innings and threw barely half his pitches for strikes. Yet through the first five innings he managed to keep the Cards at bay. In the sixth, though, they finally made him pay. The Redbirds added two more against Guillermo Mota, with the outburst punctuated by Freese's home run.
That was more than enough for an exceptionally sharp Lohse, who picked up his first win and first base hit of the year.
Lohse fell behind, 1-0, on a pair of singles in the first inning, but after that he put the Giants on lockdown. Following Pablo Sandoval's RBI single, he retired 20 of the next 21 batters, including 14 in a row at one point. He got into some trouble with a pair of singles in the eighth, one of which was a popup that Gerald Laird couldn't rein in, but escaped unscathed.
"Their guy pitched well and that's where it started," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He located the ball and moved it around. We saw a well-pitched game against us."
Trever Miller finished the game as the Cardinals pulled back within three games of the National League Central-leading Reds. St. Louis is 1-2 on a 10-game, 10-day, three-city western road trip.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, and follow him on Twitter @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.