CHICAGO -- Everything aligned perfectly for Cubs pinch-hitter Reed Johnson to surprise the Cardinals in the seventh inning on Saturday.
With the game tied at 2 against Joe Kelly (1-4), Bryan LaHair walked and was lifted for Tony Campana, who stole second and reached third on Geovany Soto's single. After Jeff Baker lined out, Kelly was replaced by Brian Fuentes, who struck out Luis Valbuena.
Johnson then bunted toward third, and Fuentes fielded the ball but was unable to make a throw, and Campana scored on the infield hit.
That was enough to give the Cubs a 3-2 win over the Cardinals and even the series. Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run triple in the first as the Cubs improved to 13-9 for the month of July, and 5-8 against the Cardinals.
Johnson was able to size up the situation quickly. Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter was playing back, left-handed hitter David DeJesus was on deck, which meant Johnson expected changeups or offspeed pitches from Fuentes, which are the best to bunt on. Plus, Campana's speed gave the Cubs an edge.
Once Johnson had decided he would bunt, he kept an eye on Carpenter.
"I was kind of waiting for him to move in a little bit, and you peek out of the corner of your eye and he's still back there and still back there, and I'm digging in and then you figure, 'I guess he's going to stay there,'" Johnson said. "Even if I don't get that bunt down, I foul it off or it's a ball, I suck the third baseman in more and I get a chance to hit it by him for an RBI."
"It was a good play," Fuentes said. "It's probably not what you would expect, and it was a risky situation for them. He had a lot of faith in himself and he laid down a good one.
"It had a little bit of spin on it, and I didn't think it had enough to go foul. I made the play and wanted to get it on a big hop, and by the time I grabbed it and looked up, he was three-quarters of the way down the line. I just decided to eat it."
DeJesus then walked to load the bases, and the Cubs thought they had another run on Starlin Castro's infield hit, but first-base umpire Mike Winters ruled shortstop Daniel Descalso's throw was in time and called Castro out. Castro, though, appeared to beat the throw, which Cubs manager Dale Sveum argued. Winters then ejected Sveum, the third time he's been tossed this season.
No problem. The back end of the bullpen -- James Russell, Shawn Camp and Carlos Marmol -- finished off the Cardinals. Russell (4-0) picked up the win and Marmol converted his 12th straight save opportunity in relief of Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off his best start, eight shutout innings against the Pirates.
Samardzija didn't look as sharp this time. The right-hander opened the game throwing seven straight balls, and he walked the bases loaded in the first. A run scored when Carlos Beltran hit into a forceout at second.
The Cubs answered in their half as DeJesus singled, Castro doubled, and one out later, both scored on Soriano's triple into the left-field corner. It was his first triple of the season and matched his entire total for 2011. He last tripled on Aug. 11, 2011, against the Nationals.
"I'm very surprised with my legs," said Soriano, who has played despite a tender left knee. "When I saw the ball bounce [in the corner], I thought I had a chance to get to third."
St. Louis loaded the bases in the sixth and tallied on Descalso's sacrifice fly to tie the game. Samardzija fell behind all six batters he faced in the sixth and walked six in the game. It's the most free passes he's issued since he walked seven Cardinals on Sept. 26, 2010.
"There were spurts when I couldn't miss and I was making all my pitches, and there were times when I was battling myself," Samardzija said. "It almost took having runners on to really get my head on straight and make big pitches."
It was Samardzija's 11th quality start, and he has a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts, dating back to July 2.
"The bottom line was he got all the outs when he had to and did a nice job," Sveum said.
It's all part of the learning process.
"You really can measure yourself against these teams," Samardzija said about facing the Cardinals and Pirates, who come to Wrigley Field next. "We don't know our record, we don't know where we're at [in the standings]. Just every day, we know the guy we're facing and who's pitching for us.
"I really like how we're playing baseball now. It's fun to come to the park. Everybody's excited and happy and wants to play all nine innings. It's a lot of fun."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.