Lance Berkman had a single, RBI double and walk – reaching base seven straight times over two games – helping the Cardinals inch closer in the wild-card race with their second consecutive 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.
“It’s not like we’re playing for a World Series championship right now but we’re on the fringes of contention,” Berkman said. “You kind of feel that and it gives you a little extra concentration.”
Jaime Garcia (12-7) worked six efficient innings, and Rafael Furcal had two hits and his 300th career steal for the Cardinals, who doubled four times and scored four runs in the first three innings against Derek Lowe (9-14). They’ve taken the first two games of the three-game series, to reduce Atlanta’s wild card lead to 5½ games and pull St. Louis within six games of first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central.
With only 17 games to go, they need a sweep to keep the surge going.
“I don’t think you can look too far down the road,” Berkman said. “If we come out and lay an egg (Sunday), then the series doesn’t mean a whole lot because we really haven’t gained that much ground.
“If we can somehow win the game tomorrow, then it gets really interesting.”
For the Braves, it’s no time to panic.
“No, no, no, no,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Let’s try to get back into winning ways tomorrow, starting tomorrow, and rattle off seven, eight, nine in a row.”
Freddie Freeman hit his 19th home run for the Braves, who are 4-7 in September after going 17-9 in August. Michael Bourn singled twice, for a two-day total of six hits, and had a steal but he flied out with the tying run on third for the final out.
Garcia has won his first two starts this month after going 0-2 with a 6.84 ERA in August. He allowed three runs and eight hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
“I really thought maybe the first inning or two were as good as he’s thrown this year,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “Then he got a couple of balls in the middle and they’ve got good hitters.”
Jason Heyward walked with one out in the ninth, then stole second and went to third on catcher Yadier Molina’s throwing error with two outs before Jason Motte wrapped up his fourth save in seven chances. Motte was the winning pitcher after working a perfect 10th inning Friday.
La Russa said Gonzalez showed guts giving Heyward the green light in that situation and “made it a real nervous situation.”
“Not a lot of guys that I know would pull the trigger on that, just because if he gets thrown out you’re going to get roasted by some,” La Russa added.
Berkman had a walk and three singles on Friday and started Saturday with an infield hit, an RBI double and a walk before ending the run with a soft liner to short in the eighth.
Albert Pujols and David Freese had an RBI apiece in the first inning. Matt Holliday and Berkman hit consecutive one-out doubles in the third, and Molina added an RBI single in the inning for a 4-0 lead.
Freeman’s two-run homer in the fourth was only the second by a left-handed batter against Garcia. Bourn singled, stole second and scored on Brian McCann’s single in the fifth to make it a one-run game.
Lowe ended a string of four consecutive rookie starters for the Braves. He was also the first in five games to finish the sixth, topping 2,500 career innings and lessening the load a bit on the Atlanta bullpen. He gave up four runs and nine hits.
Lowe beat the Cardinals in the clinching Game 4 of the 2004 World Series with Boston, but has had little success in the regular season. He is 1-8 with a 6.79 ERA in 10 career starts against St. Louis, the lone victory coming in 2007 when he was with the Dodgers.
“For some unknown reason, this team gives me fits,” Lowe said. “You look at the numbers against this team and it’s awful.”
Reminded of the World Series triumph at old Busch Stadium, Lowe muttered, “That was a long time ago.”
Notes: Tim Hudson (14-9, 3.14) faces Jake Westbrook (11-8, 4.65) in the finale of the Cardinals’ nine-game homestand on Sunday. Hudson is 3-3 with a 5.25 ERA for his career against St. Louis. ... Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones got a day off and will play Sunday. C Brian McCann will get a rest. Jones is 2 for 15 with no RBIs this season against the Cardinals. ... Braves LHP George Sherrill (left elbow inflammation) resumed playing catch Saturday after being shut down for about a week after going on the DL on Aug. 31. ... Nick Punto’s deciding sacrifice fly on Friday was his first game-ending hit. ... The Braves bullpen has totaled 38 innings in 11 games this month. ... Furcal is 9 for 20 with three RBIs against Lowe.