ST. LOUIS -- A little breather seems to have done Jaime Garcia a world of good.
The left-hander returned from a brief layoff to turn in his best game in six weeks, leading the Cardinals to a 6-4 win against the Reds on Saturday. Garcia was pitching on nine days' rest. The Cardinals had him skip one start to allow him to work on his mechanics as well as to get a mental break.
"He had a chance to gather his thoughts and make some adjustments in his bullpens," said catcher Gerald Laird. "Look at some film, go over things, and I thought he made a good adjustment."
Garcia was not only effective, he was poised. Each of the first three innings could easily have gotten away from him, but instead he limited the damage and kept his team in position to come back.
That they did, hanging five runs on Reds starter Homer Bailey in three innings to chase the enigmatic right-hander. Garcia himself drove in one of the runs with a second-inning single. The Cardinals won for the seventh time in nine games.
From there, Garcia and the St. Louis bullpen made the lead stand. Garcia got sharper as he went along, allowing two baserunners (both on singles) over his final three innings.
"That's what he's capable of doing," said manager Tony La Russa. "He's done it so many times his first couple years. Everybody gets out of whack -- players and pitchers."
Arthur Rhodes surrendered a two-run homer to Jay Bruce in the eighth to make it close, but Jason Motte restored order and picked up his second save. Motte has gone 21 consecutive outings without being charged with a run and 33 straight without an earned run.
The turning points for the Cards, though, came much earlier.
The game began with great peril for Garcia. Brandon Phillips led off with a single, stole second and scored on Edgar Renteria's double. Garcia was down a run, with a runner in scoring position, before recording his first out. Yet with the heart of the Reds order coming up, he collected three consecutive strikeouts, escaping the inning with the Redbirds within a run.
Things again threatened to get away from him in the second, and Garcia again steadfastly refused to let it happen. Todd Frazier collected a one-out single and went all the way to third when Matt Holliday threw the ball away after Ryan Hanigan's lineout. When Bailey singled for a two-run Reds lead, it again looked like a perilous inning. Garcia got Phillips to pop up, though, ending the threat.
"That's not the way you want to start a game, but I think I did a pretty good job after that happened to worry about the next hitter," Garcia said. "You can't really worry about what happened with the guy before. I thought I did a pretty good job in there and kept us in the game."
In the third, Garcia got help from his defense. Bruce singled with a runner on and one out, but he was thrown out trying to take second. Garcia got Chris Heisey to pop up for the third out, stranding Joey Votto at third.
The Cardinals mustered a multifaceted offensive attack against Bailey before the Cincinnati bullpen quieted them down over the late innings. Seven different players either scored or drove in a run, or both, but only Jon Jay had more than one of either (two runs scored).
Albert Pujols had two hits and an RBI, raising his batting average to .296 and his RBI total to 85. He is closing in on a .300 average and 100 RBIs and has already passed 30 home runs. Pujols is the only player in Major League history with at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a .300 average in each of his first 10 seasons and has put himself in position to continue the streak.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.