ST. LOUIS -- For Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia, the recipe for success was simple: a change of scenery, an extra day of rest and an injury-depleted Cubs lineup.
Garcia led the Cards past the Cubs, 6-1, on Friday night, rebounding from the worst outing of his career with another dominant performance at Busch Stadium. Garcia allowed four hits over eight innings, fanning eight and walking one.
"Jaime's been probably the most consistent, dominant guy," said Lance Berkman, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning. "You run out there and throw your hat on the field and the next thing you know it's the seventh inning."
Garcia got plenty of help from his offense, as Albert Pujols hit his 10th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the fifth. The 394-foot blast was the slugger's 100th career round-tripper at Busch Stadium; he's the first player to reach that plateau at the third incarnation of the ballpark.
"He's hit a lot of them, it doesn't surprise me, it's great," said Berkman. "I've always said he's the best hitter ever. What else can you say besides that?"
Pitching on five days' rest, Garcia retired the first 13 batters he faced, bouncing back in a big way after allowing 11 earned runs in his last start in Colorado. The young hurler said he quickly moved on from his start against the Rockies, which he said made him stronger.
"It helped me in a positive way. I never really doubted myself, I never really got sad for that game," Garcia said. "As soon as I got done pitching I got a couple of guys and family telling me, 'Don't worry about it, everything's going to be fine,' but I wasn't thinking that way. The way I was thinking, that's in the past and I know I have the stuff. I was never really worried about that last start."
The Cubs finally reached Garcia for a run in the fifth, when he allowed an RBI double to Lou Montanez after Carlos Pena walked, but he struck out the next two batters he faced to end the rally.
Garcia routinely got ahead in the count with his fastball, then finished hitters off with a mix of movement and speed. After needing 48 pitches to escape the first inning in his last start, Garcia motored through 4 1/3 innings before reaching that mark.
"He had movement with his hard stuff on both sides of the plate, and then he had an excellent changeup, some curveballs. He was in command all night long," manager Tony La Russa said.
It certainly helped Garcia's cause to be back in St. Louis, where he has a 0.46 ERA and 4-0 record this season. So it wasn't much of a surprise to La Russa that Garcia turned in another gem at home to end Chicago's five-game win streak at Busch III.
"You're going to have some tough starts, but he's already proven over a year and two months he's got very tough character and doesn't get distracted," La Russa said.
Garcia's aggressiveness and ability to throw strikes early kept the Cubs' hitters off balance all night long.
"He's throwing strikes and you want to make him throw his pitch, when he's ahead in the count, it's tough to work the count," Cubs third baseman D.J. Lemahieu said. "He threw really well."
Berkman put the Cardinals on the board early with his club-leading 12th home run. Ryan Theriot led off the inning with a single to extend his hitting streak to 17 games, the longest active in the Majors. After an out, Pujols walked to set up Berkman, whose shot spotted Garcia a cushion he would not relinquish.
"With Jaime on the mound I felt pretty good about it," Berkman said. "The way he's pitched this year, if you can put a couple runs together you feel like you've got a great chance to win."
Berkman's dinger ended an 0-for-13 streak at the plate, coming in his first at-bat after his scheduled day off on Thursday. La Russa pointed out the importance of getting his players some time off as the weather heats up in June and July.
"All money in the bank if you can give them a little extra time," the skipper said.
Chicago starter Ryan Dempster took the loss, giving up six earned runs on eight hits over five innings.
The Cardinals improved to 34-25 on the season. They lead the second-place Brewers by two games in the National League Central, with the Reds 3 1/2 games back.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.