ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals needed something on Saturday night to help them snap out of their recent funk, and they got just what they needed with some late-inning heroics.
Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score, and rookie Tony Cruz came through with a pinch-hit walk-off RBI double with one out in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Cardinals to a much-needed, 7-6, come-from-behind victory over the D-backs at Busch Stadium.
"That was a legitimate comeback," manager Tony La Russa said. "They are a good and tough club on the other side. [Starter Chris Carpenter] was victimized by some ugly hits. ... It looked like it was going to be a rough night, and we just kept playing. That's why we like this club so much. We just stayed after it, and at least you don't ever regret that you didn't try. And then we had some real heroics."
The Cardinals (48-43) had lost five out of their last seven games and 17 of their last 26, but with Saturday's win -- coupled with the Brewers' 8-4 loss to the Reds and the Pirates' 6-3 loss to the Cubs -- they are tied with the Brewers atop the National League Central.
St. Louis has several players to thank for Saturday's comeback.
"It's a great win for us," Carpenter said. "The story of the game is coming back and winning, and you look at a bunch of different guys on this club -- not just Tony's big hit, but Skip [Schumaker's] big day defensively and offensively, [Yadier Molina] had a big double, [Matt Holliday] had a couple hits, Albert's big homer, the bullpen ... It was just a great team win."
Carpenter, who had won his last three starts, struggled at times but was able to get through six innings. He allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits, walked four and struck out three.
Pujols finished with three hits and three RBIs in his first multihit game since returning from the disabled list. Also as part of the group effort, Schumaker had his first three-hit game of the season, Nick Punto drew a key pinch-hit walk in the sixth following a ground-rule double by Molina, Jon Jay had a pinch-hit single to lead off the eighth, and rookie right-handers Lance Lynn and Fernando Salas retired the final six batters in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
"We're getting a lot of help from the bench and guys coming through big-time when they are getting the opportunity to play," Pujols said. "It's pretty special when you have some young players like that be able to do that at this level."
Cruz finished it off with his first career pinch-hit after going hitless in his first five attempts off the bench. It was the first walkoff/game-ending hit of his young Major League career, and it sent the crowd of 42,745 home happy.
"You grow up watching people hit walkoffs and you dream of those as a little kid," Cruz said.
St. Louis struck first with a run in the first inning.
Ryan Theriot led off with an infield single and took second on a throwing error by third baseman Sean Burroughs. Theriot advanced to third on a flyout by David Freese and then scored on Pujols' single to center field.
The base hit was the second for Pujols in 13 at-bats since returning from the disabled list. It was also the 1,980th hit of his career, tying him with Red Schoendienst for fifth on the Cardinals' all-time list, but he wasn't done.
The D-backs (49-42) loaded the bases with one out in the second inning and, after Carpenter struck out first baseman Juan Miranda, starting pitcher Daniel Hudson knocked a two-run single to center field that was misplayed by Colby Rasmus, which allowed all three runners to score.
"He could have given up another three or four, and then there was no chance," La Russa said in summarizing the right-hander's 19th start of the season. "They had to work for everything they got off of him. That was cruel, because he strikes out Miranda, and the pitcher bloops one, and all of a sudden, it's three runs. It's a tough game."
Arizona added a run in the third, making it 4-1, after back-to-back bloop doubles to right field by Justin Upton and Chris Young.
Hudson hurt Carpenter again in the sixth inning. His two-out single up the middle kept the inning going, and the next batter, Kelly Johnson, hit a ground-rule double to right field to score Willie Bloomquist and give the D-backs a four-run advantage.
In their half of the inning, the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs on a single by Rasmus, a ground-rule double by Molina and a walk by Punto, who was pinch-hitting for Carpenter. That walk chased Hudson from the game after 109 pitches. The first pitch from reliever Sam Demel was drilled into right for an RBI single by Schumaker.
Molina scored to make it 5-3 as the next batter, Theriot, grounded into a double play, but the Cardinals wouldn't score again in the inning.
The D-backs added a run in the seventh after Upton singled off reliever Mitchell Boggs, went to third on a flyout by Miguel Montero off Trever Miller and scored on pinch-hitter Ryan Roberts' single off Jason Motte.
The Cardinals rallied for three runs in the eighth off right-handed reliever Yhency Brazoban, with pinch-hitter Jay and Schumaker opening the frame with back-to-back singles. Jay scored on a one-out error by Young, and Pujols tied the score at 6 with his homer to left.
It was Pujols' 18th home run of the season and third hit of the night.
"It's tough, because the first time, he smoked a slider," said Montero, the D-backs' catcher, of Pujols' final two at-bats. "I'm thinking, 'Let me try to go fastball,' and he hit it even harder. He's a smart hitter. You can't repeat pitches to him. He's pretty special."
Salas (5-2), the Cardinals' rookie closer, threw a scoreless ninth and picked up the victory after Cruz blasted his pinch-hit RBI double to deep right-center for the game-winner.
Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.