WASHINGTON -- An ominous beginning gave way to a celebratory end for the Cardinals, who emphatically snapped out of an offensive funk by stealing a 10-9, come-from-behind win against the Nationals on Saturday. The victory put an end to St. Louis' four-game losing streak, as well as a seven-game skid at Nationals Park.
The Cardinals erased a four-run deficit early and a one-run deficit late to preserve their half-game lead for the second National League Wild Card.
"I don't know if you can show more life than what they showed today," manager Mike Matheny said. "All things considered, that's as good of a win as we've had."
There were contributions all around, too.
David Freese, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter all contributed multi-RBI games. Eight players scored at least once, and two of the biggest plate appearances came from pinch-hitters. Kyle Lohse battled without his best; Jon Jay patrolled center field masterfully again; and the back end of the bullpen was, as usual, dominant.
"We're giving it our best," Jay said. "Every game is the biggest game of the year."
The Cards evened the game at 9 behind a nine-pitch, pinch-hit walk from Shane Robinson and a pinch-hit single by Carlos Beltran in the eighth. An inning later, Allen Craig got the offense rolling again.
He led off the ninth with a single off reliever Drew Storen, who proceeded to ignore him. That, coupled with Storen's slow delivery home, gave the Cardinals an opening. Craig was given the green light to take second, and he stole it without a throw.
"I think in that situation he's pretty focused on the hitter," Craig said. "It was a point where we were willing to gamble. I felt confident I could take it."
The additional 90 feet allowed Craig to score when Freese lined a one-out single into left field.
"He was slow to the plate last year, but this year -- boy, he's very deliberate," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of Storen. "I think he's over two seconds on some of those deliveries. That cost him tonight."
Jason Motte then closed a string of three scoreless innings from the bullpen with his 32nd save.
The victory was hard-earned for the Cardinals, who had scored just one (unearned) run in their last four games. Their 14 hits on Saturday matched their total from the last three games combined.
As key as some of their hits were late, the Cardinals won this one by the way they answered early. The club faced a 4-0 deficit after a defensively unsound first inning in which errors by Holliday and Daniel Descalso led to three unearned runs.
It seemed a hefty hole to climb out of given the offense's recent woes and an opposing pitcher who had the second-lowest ERA of any starter in the league.
"You try to turn the page from the last few days, but the way it started out, it's tough not to say, 'Here we go again,'" said Freese. "But that's not this team."
Freese helped resuscitate the bunch with a second-inning, two-run homer off Washington's Jordan Zimmermann. Holliday then followed a two-run blast from Washington's Adam LaRoche with one of his own.
"David's hit, I feel like, really broke the ice with our team," Craig said. "Matt came back with his huge home run. And we kind of just piled on from there."
The piling on hit its apex in the fourth.
Freese led off with a double and Zimmermann plunked two batters to load the bases with two outs. Carpenter, who could hardly walk a day earlier because of a sprained right ankle, drove in all three as he drove a 2-2 pitch into the right-field corner.
"In that spot, with the way things have been going, it was nice to get that big hit," Carpenter said. "... That's the kind of jump-start that will get us back on the right track."
After Holliday drew a walk, Craig extended the club's lead to 8-6 with a single off reliever Craig Stammen. All eight runs were charged to Zimmermann, who, in the first 75 starts of his career, had never given up more than six in a game.
Zimmermann's ERA jumped from 2.63 to 3.01 with the start.
"I felt like he was going to make some adjustments and he never could make any adjustments," Johnson said. "He just couldn't get his ball down."
It wasn't smooth sailing from there, though. Lohse settled in for a bit, but Washington moved back in front during a three-run sixth and knocked Lohse from the game. A leadoff homer by Danny Espinosa brought the Nationals to within one. A two-out single and aggressive baserunning by Bryce Harper gave Washington the 9-8 lead.
Lohse was charged with eight of the runs -- five earned -- on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. It's now been a week since the Cardinals have had a starter finish six innings.
"After that first inning, it was just a matter of trying to get deep," Lohse said. "You tell yourself you're going to be there for a while and not get knocked out early. You have to figure out what you have to do to get quick outs.
"It was ugly, but it could have turned even worse."
The Cardinals could say the same about this road swing, which is set to end on Sunday. Despite enduring the team's ugliest four-day stretch of the season, St. Louis still has a chance to head home with a 5-5 trip.
"The last few days have been rough, but we haven't seen anyone in here too down in the dumps or upset," Craig said. "Today was definitely a grinder of a game. They got out to an early lead and really tested us. That was a great win for us."
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.