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STL@NYM: Craig drills a go-ahead two-run shot

NEW YORK -- An offense that had scored just once in the first three games of the series had a relative explosion against the Mets on Monday. It was only five runs, but in the context of this series, it felt like much more.

Boosted by a three-RBI day from Allen Craig, the Cardinals overcame two squandered leads to finally ride a third one to a 5-4 win over the Mets. There were 25,830 fans on hand at Citi Field, most of them looking for the Mets to secure their first four-game sweep of the Cardinals since 1986.

Instead, St. Louis leaves New York having snapped a season-worst five-game losing streak.

"That was much needed," said manager Mike Matheny. "You never know which win will be the one that helps you take off."

Though the game was certainly not a must-win, Matheny felt it was needed badly enough that he employed a "call to arms" approach. That meant scrapping predetermined plans to give various starters a day off in the middle of a grinding 11-day road trip.

For one day, rest took a back seat.

"When you look at things at the end, I think we're going to be just fine," Craig said of his club. "We're too talented to be in a slump for too long."

Craig was in the middle of all the Cardinals' scoring in this one. He gave the team its first lead in a week with an RBI single in the fourth, then capped the day with a tie-breaking two-run blast in the eighth.

Following a single by Matt Holliday, Craig drilled Jon Rauch's 2-1 offering into the left-field seats. The homer was Craig's sixth in just 16 games this year. He has driven in 22 during that span.

Craig's home run came at a critical juncture, too. The previous half inning, the Mets had tied the game at 3 on Scott Hairston's pinch-hit blast.

"I knew it was a big hit," Craig said. "I was trying to just drive the ball, and the pitch was a little up."

The Cardinals ended up needing every bit of those two runs, as they gave one back in the bottom of the inning. With a still-unsettled bullpen, Matheny gave Eduardo Sanchez the chance to bridge the gap to the ninth. Sanchez got two outs, but also gave up a run.

When the potential tying run reached third, Matheny turned to his closer.

"We needed him there," Matheny said of Jason Motte.

Motte retired David Wright to end the eighth. He sealed his ninth save an inning later.

Until that point, the Mets had successfully countered every one of the Cardinals' moves.

Craig's fourth-inning RBI hit off starter Dillon Gee had a shelf life of mere minutes, as starter Kyle Lohse served up a home run to Lucas Duda in the bottom half of the frame,

That 1-1 tie lasted until the seventh, when, with some help from the Mets' defense, the Cardinals took a two-run lead. Craig began the inning with a walk and moved to third on David Freese's single.

Gee fielded a comebacker from Daniel Descalso next, but in an attempt to start a double play, he made an errant throw to second. No out was recorded, and Craig trotted home from third.

That left Matheny with a significant decision. The bases were full with none out, and Lohse's spot was due up. The right-hander had allowed just two hits and thrown only 76 pitches to that point. But desperate for offense, Matheny pulled Lohse, sending up Matt Adams in his place.

"At that point, I certainly thought we had a great opportunity to stack some more on," Matheny explained. "Those opportunities have been few and far between."

"We've got to do what we've got to do to win ballgames," Lohse added. "I understand the move."

Adams went down swinging on three pitches.

Though the Cardinals didn't have a breakout inning, Rafael Furcal did follow Adams with an RBI fielder's choice. Yet like it had in the fourth, the lead quickly vanished.

Lohse's departure led to Marc Rzepczynski's entrance, and the lefty surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Hairston that tied the game. The right-handed-hitting Hairston had been sent up to pinch-hit for the left-handed Ike Davis.

Rzepczynski's full-count pitch -- a slider -- was not the one catcher Yadier Molina had called. It was the pitch Rzepczynski chose after shaking off Molina's request for a sinker.

"I was just thinking too much," Rzepczynski said. "That [sinker] is my bread and butter. That's what's gotten me success against lefties and righties. I tried to outthink him, thinking he was probably sitting fastball."

Regrets about pitch selection aren't isolated for Rzepczynski, either. As he looks back at his recent stretch -- one in which he has allowed nine earned runs in 7 2/3 innings -- he has been predominantly hurt when going away from his sinker.

Rzepczynski's blown save potentially cost Lohse his sixth win. It marked the third time in Lohse's last four starts that the bullpen failed to protect his leads.

"It's a big win for us to get out of here and avoid the sweep," Lohse said. "Obviously, I'd like to get more wins than I've been getting lately, but there's nothing I can do about that."

Lohse gave the Cardinals the dominant start they have been seeking. He faced just two over the minimum in his efficient six-inning effort. Pitching with the ease that he did in April, Lohse had command of his fastball and offspeed pitches. And in an effort to keep Mets hitters off-balance, he purposefully mixed in more curveballs.

"Not that I haven't had it," Lohse said of the pitch. "I just hadn't used it. That was one of the adjustments I wanted to make coming into today."

With the win, the Cardinals avoided falling below .500 for the first time since April 14, 2011.

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