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Carpenter tosses 5 scoreless innings in return as Cards edge Cubs

ST. LOUIS -- Five scoreless innings from Chris Carpenter was plenty for the St. Louis Cardinals in his first start off the 15-day disabled list.

The Cardinals want to keep their often-injured ace healthy, so manager Tony La Russa did his best to ignore Carpenter's steely-eyed stare.

"It was a good time to stop him," La Russa said after the Cardinals' 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night. "He comes out of there in great shape, why mess with it?"

Chris Duncan snapped a 1-for-21 slump with two hits and an RBI and the bullpen allowed two hits and a run after Carpenter's 67-pitch outing, which was just a few pitches below his expectations. Carpenter said he didn't think La Russa heard him in the dugout when he responded, "Are you sure?" and then "just looked at him."

But he's been saying all week he'd pitch until they take the ball.

"I never argue the decision that they make," Carpenter said. "They're the boss."

Pinch-hitter Micah Hoffpauir had a two-out RBI single in the ninth and the Cubs had two men on before Ryan Franklin struck out pinch-hitter Reed Johnson for his 10th save in 11 chances. Franklin said it was his toughest outing aside from his lone blown save in Cincinnati on May 10.

"It's going to be [tough] against these guys anytime," Franklin said. "It's a tough three outs anytime in a series like this."

Khalil Greene, relegated to a utility role while mired in a 2-for-23 slump that has prompted anxiety issues, added a seventh-inning sacrifice fly as a pinch hitter that proved crucial.

Ryan Dempster (3-3) was the Cubs' second straight tough-luck loser, allowing six hits and two runs in seven innings. They've lost three in a row while scoring one run the first two games of a three-game series against their biggest rival.

Duncan's go-ahead hit came with the infield in.

"That's baseball. I've given up some rockets to some people, too," Dempster said. "Keep making pitches, that's all you can do."

Milton Bradley, who doubled and scored in the ninth, figured runs would be tough to come by against Carpenter.

"It's not like we were facing Joe Blow," Bradley said. "He's a pretty good pitcher."

Carpenter (2-0) gave up three hits in his first outing since he strained a left rib-cage muscle April 14 at Arizona, and also his 100th career start with the Cardinals. The Cardinals played it cautious with the 2005 NL Cy Young winner, whose timetable was pushed up a few days after a rainout last week.

Carpenter has not allowed a run in 15 innings over three starts. He's 8-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 15 career starts against the Cubs, and 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in six starts against them at home.

The Cubs missed two shots to get to Carpenter, putting two men on with two outs in the first before first baseman Albert Pujols made a nice stab to his right on Bradley's grounder. Ryan Theriot was stranded at second after a one-out double in the third after Kosuke Fukudome flied out and Derrek Lee struck out.

Pujols legged out a leadoff double in the fourth on a ball up the middle to give the Cardinals their first runner in scoring position. He advanced on a sacrifice before scoring on Duncan's hit, which also ended an 0-for-14 slump.

Game notes
The Cardinals are 5-3 against the Cubs this season, including 4-1 at home. ... Dempster has worked at least six innings in all nine starts this season. ... Alfonso Soriano was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Carpenter after entering the game batting .429 (12 for 28) with two homers and seven RBIs. ... The Cardinals have used 39 different lineups in 40 games, and Wednesday's card was the sixth with the pitcher batting eighth. ... Mike Fontenot was hitless in four at-bats and is in a 2-for-36 slump. ... Joe Thurston is in a 2-for-28 slump for St. Louis. ... Hoffpauir is 4 for 10 with three RBIs as a pinch hitter. ... The Cubs have scored four or more runs in all 21 wins and three or fewer in 14 of 17 losses.