MIAMI -- Strong pitching and clutch hitting are two critical components of winning a baseball game.
The Cardinals got a strong start from Chris Carpenter and a key home run from Albert Pujols to beat the Marlins, 2-1, on Saturday night before 23,922 at Sun Life Stadium.
Pujols, who entered the game batting .533 in 15 at-bats against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, crushed a two-run homer off the right-hander in the first inning. The blast was Pujols' second homer against the Marlins this series.
"Just because you've had success against a pitcher in the past, doesn't mean you can take it for granted," Pujols said. "I'd take him on my team any time. He's a good quality pitcher that's going to give you some innings, and keep the ball down. He made that mistake against me that gave us those two runs, but he kept us off balance the rest of the night."
Rafael Furcal scored on the homer after hitting a leadoff single to right. Replays appeared to show Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton robbing Furcal of a hit with a diving catch, but the play was ruled a single.
"We all thought he caught it," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "Like I told the umpires, 'You've got four guys out here and four guys can't see it.' Maybe that's another reason why we should have instant replay."
Pujols' homer was all the offense Carpenter would need as he tossed 6 2/3 solid innings to earn his seventh win of the season. The 36-year-old scattered five hits while striking out seven.
"They fought a lot of balls off and really competed against him," manager Tony La Russa said. "He had 60 pitches in three innings, so you knew he was going to have a tough time getting deep into that game, but he got into the seventh. He's amazing."
The veteran right-hander found himself in a jam in the fourth inning, but was able to minimize damage and keep his team ahead.
"I felt good early on and I felt good after that inning," Carpenter said. "Gaby [Sanchez] put a real nice at-bat on me. I came back and fell behind [Greg] Dobbs to give up that hit to him, and then it was just straight battling and trying to get out of that inning with the least amount of damage that I could, and I was able to do that."
Carpenter allowed just one run on the night when he hit Dewayne Wise with a pitch with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth. The right-hander escaped further damage by getting Nolasco to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"You go out and make pitches. That's what you're supposed to do as a starter," Carpenter said. "You try to keep continuing to execute until your job is over and the manager comes to take the ball. I was able to make pitches when I had to. There was that big play in the fourth inning, and from then on, I was able to execute and make pitches."
Facing the Cardinals has been a nightmare for Nolasco. The right-hander entered Saturday's game 0-3 with a 7.06 ERA over six outings against St. Louis.
"You've got all that history against Nolasco, but talking with [hitting coaches] Mark [McGwire] and Mike Aldrete, we didn't understand," La Russa said. "We see him in Spring Training and he's a really good pitcher and he showed it today. He starts mixing things up and changing speeds and we just couldn't break through. It looks good on paper, but we know he's a quality pitcher."
Nolasco's tough luck continued Saturday as he pitched well but lost. Nolasco held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings.
"Best lineup in the league by far," Nolasco said of the Cardinals, singling out Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. "Not to knock anybody else's lineup, but you've got to face those three guys back-to-back-to-back and possibly when you have runners on base, there's no doubt it's the best 3-4-5 in the league. Not only do they have power to any part of the ballpark but they're all selective. They all have good approaches."
The Cardinals stranded 12 runners on Saturday, and Nolasco was the reason for 10 of those runners being left on base.
"We created some opportunities, but he made some really good pitches to avoid them and you've got to give him credit," La Russa said. "We kept working to get runs and just couldn't."
With their win on Saturday, the Cardinals secured a series victory over the Marlins, but they know they have to try to sweep on Sunday as they continue their push to catch the first-place Brewers.
"Our goal is to try to win every series," Pujols said. "We won the series today and hopefully we can take the fourth game of the series here, then go home on Monday and pick it up with the Brewers on Tuesday. We can't worry about what they do. We need to worry about ourselves and play the game we know how to play."
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.