ST. LOUIS -- On the same day Chris Carpenter made news for stepping back onto a mound, the player who assumed Carpenter's spot in the rotation three months earlier only strengthened his case for an All-Star invite.
Lance Lynn continues to pitch like the ace the Cardinals lost back in spring. And on Wednesday, with the assist of one Carlos Beltran swing and a boost from the bullpen, Lynn led his club to a 1-0 victory over the White Sox. With 40,045 at Busch Stadium, Lynn struck out a career-high 12 in the win.
"You either have that or you don't," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his power pitcher. "We've said it about [Adam Wainwright] in the past, and seen it from [Carpenter] many times in the past: That when the situation gets tough, you get tougher. He showed that today."
It was just the latest pick-me-up performance from Lynn, who has been a sensational and surprising story for the Cardinals this year. While New York's R.A. Dickey beat him to the 10-win mark by a matter of minutes, Lynn joined Dickey atop that Major League leader board when Jason Motte secured his 12th save by inducing a double play as the potential tying run was trying to score.
Yes, the ninth got tricky. And the eighth had its own flavor of intrigue. But two key Cardinals relievers who had recently stumbled did enough to preserve a win that pushed St. Louis back above .500.
"Hopefully this heads us in the right direction," said Marc Rzepczynski, who could say the same for his own personal results.
"Any win," Motte added, "could get us going."
Though the game was crisp and mostly clean, it turned out that three of the players who figured most prominently were -- unbeknownst to anyone outside their dugout -- playing at less than 100 percent.
Lynn entered the start battling back stiffness, something that has bothered him for several days, he disclosed afterward.
Beltran, whose third-inning solo homer stood as the game's only run, nearly spent the night off because of a stomach virus. Matheny was prepared to remove Beltran from the lineup minutes before game time, only to have Beltran convince him that he was good enough.
"Yesterday, I felt bad and I was able to play," Beltran said. "Today, I was feeling the same way, or a little bit worse. I thank God that I was able to play and that I was able to have a good day."
Beltran's National League-leading 19th homer was one of three hits he had in four at-bats.
"Just guys pushing," Matheny said of Lynn and Beltran.
On the other side, White Sox starter Jake Peavy was having his own issues, as he was sick with the flu. Regardless, he limited the Cardinals to four hits in seven innings.
"I just got outpitched," Peavy said afterward. "There ain't no other way to say it."
Lynn pitched the first 7 1/3 innings of the Cardinals' third shutout this season, leaving to a standing ovation after allowing an eighth-inning single. By then, Lynn had already struck out a dozen, one more than he fanned in his last start.
That means in the last 13 1/3 innings, Lynn has recorded 23 of 40 outs via strikeout.
No Cardinals pitcher had recorded double-digit strikeouts in back-to-back games since April 2010. And the last one to do it? Carpenter, of course.
"He was real good," Chicago's Paul Konerko said of Lynn. "Deceptive delivery, [and] more than anything, just location. Even when you know what the guy is throwing, if he's hitting his spots, it's tough to put good swings on him."
The strikeouts were especially critical in the fifth, the only inning in which the White Sox seriously threatened against Lynn. A leadoff triple by Alex Rios left Lynn's one-run lead 90 feet from evaporating. Lynn didn't allow Chicago to put another ball in play.
An eight-pitch battle with White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski ended with Pierzynski swinging through a 95-mph fastball. Alexei Ramirez also went down on strikes, and, after an intentional walk brought up Peavy, Lynn punctuated the escape with a third straight swinging strikeout.
"You always leave a little bit in the tank," Lynn said, "in case you need it at a certain time."
"Not many guys get out of that spot like he did," Matheny added. "That's the game right there."
That final strikeout began a string of eight straight batters retired by Lynn, whose ERA dropped to 2.42. His 112th pitch of the night was laced up the middle by Orlando Hudson in the eighth and brought out Matheny. Chicago pinch-hitter Adam Dunn was making his way to the batter's box, and Matheny wanted Lynn taking no part in the matchup.
Instead, Matheny turned to Rzepczynski, a bold choice given the events of the previous night.
"That's our guy," Matheny said of his primary lefty. "That's the message we're giving them."
On Tuesday, Rzepczynski allowed a one-run deficit to balloon to three and served up a monster home run on a slider to Dunn. This time, Rzepczynski threw three sinkers and garnered an inning-ending double play. He came off the mound visibly charged.
"I wanted to face him again," Rzepczynski said. "When a guy gets you, you want to go out and face them the next day with a chance to get him out. Today, I was able to."
The ninth turned out to be even more interesting, beginning with a single on a ball that Rafael Furcal couldn't corral. The Cardinal shortstop quickly redeemed himself, though, stopping a ball up the middle to hold a runner at third with one out.
That brought up Konerko, with runners on the corners. Motte, who took a loss on Sunday, turned to his cutter with a 3-1 count, and Konerko bounced into the double play.
"I can throw an offspeed pitch every once in a while," Motte joked afterward. "It happened to work on that one."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.