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Must C Clutch: Berkman wins it for the Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- In a series against a team they'd love to see again in October, the Cardinals showed that they can win October-style games.

The Cards completed a two-game mini-sweep of the Phillies with a 2-1 win at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night. Lance Berkman's one-out single in the bottom of the ninth sent St. Louis to a hard-earned win against a team with four straight division titles and the best record in the National League.

It followed a similarly challenging 3-1 win a night earlier, marking the sixth and seventh times all year that the Cardinals won when scoring fewer than four runs. The Phils trotted out two of their vaunted four aces, and the Cardinals' starters matched them pitch for pitch.

"You've got a really good Phillies team, that's really good every year," said shortstop Ryan Theriot, who went 2-for-5. "They've got great pitching. So, yeah, I don't want to say like a preview, but that's a good team. Charlie [Manuel] is a great manager. So, definitely, it's a good confidence-booster."

Theriot started the winning rally with an infield single off Danys Baez, and Jon Jay singled to put two men on for Albert Pujols. The three-time NL Most Valuable Player dropped a bloop single into shallow center, but it hung up in the air long enough that the runners only advanced one base. Matt Holliday grounded into a force at home but beat out the double play, setting up Berkman's game-ender.

A twin-killing wouldn't have ended the inning, but it would have made Berkman's task quite a bit tougher. Instead of needing a base hit, he only had to get a ball to a decent depth in the outfield, and he did just that. With center fielder Michael Martinez playing shallow, Berkman lofted it over Martinez's head for his third big league game-ending hit.

"You have to be able to win those games to be a good team," Berkman said. "Sometimes your offense has to carry the team. Sometimes your starting pitching has to carry the team. Usually it's when you're winning those 2-1 kind of ballgames, sometimes your bullpen's got to carry the team. I think the offense by and large has done a pretty good job, and then recently, the two starts we got this series have been phenomenal."

The win went to reliever Fernando Salas, who pitched a perfect top of the ninth. But the heavy lifting was done by starter Jaime Garcia, who turned in his third straight outstanding outing. Garcia permitted an unearned run over eight innings, making it three straight starts in which he has allowed fewer than two runs.

Garcia took a 1-0 lead into the eighth and might have made it three shutouts on the young season if not for a costly and baffling error behind him. With one out and the bases empty in the eighth, Tyler Greene simply dropped a routine popup off the bat of Jimmy Rollins. The next batter, Martinez, singled to center, sending Rollins to third. Placido Polanco's sacrifice fly got the Phillies on the board and tied the game.

Still, it was a superb showing for Garcia. He didn't allow an earned run for the third time in 2011, and he has allowed three or fewer in every start he's made this year. He didn't get as many ground balls as usual, but the balls hit in the air were rarely well-struck. For the second game in a row, he wasn't dominant. He was simply effective.

Garcia now sports a 1.64 ERA, tied with Josh Johnson for the best in the NL, and he remains unbeaten for the season. He has allowed one earned run, total, in four starts at home this year.

"Everything he throws moves, in and out," Polanco said. "He changes speeds also. Good breaking ball. Good changeup."

He was every bit the equal, and then some, of Phils star Roy Oswalt -- who has tormented the Cards plenty over the years. Oswalt gave the Cardinals chances in his return from the disabled list, but locked down once he got into trouble. The only run against him came on Yadier Molina's one-out single in the fourth.

Berkman, long a teammate of Oswalt's in Houston, singled and walked in his first and second big league plate appearances against Oswalt. He came away impressed just the same.

"That wasn't that great of a hit," Berkman said. "Roy's got good stuff. I was impressed. He told me yesterday he wasn't feeling great, and if that's what he looks like when he's not feeling great, then I don't want to face him when he is."

Due to his DL time, Oswalt was lifted after five innings, handing it over to the Phillies' bullpen. Michael Stutes then succumbed to a side injury himself after only three pitches. Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo kept the home team off the scoreboard through the eighth, but they broke through in the ninth against Baez.

The Cardinals improved to 24-19 on the season, remaining 1 1/2 games behind the Reds in the NL Central. St. Louis is 10-4 in its last 14 home games and has won or split five straight home series. Comments