SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' dependable bullpen is a big reason San Francisco has been winning the close games lately.
Rich Aurilia hit his first home run of the season to give San Francisco the lead in the seventh, Aaron Rowand doubled and scored twice and the Giants took the rubber game from the St. Louis Cardinals 5-3 on Sunday.The victory gave the team a winning month of May at 15-14 and a 5-1 homestand.Merkin Valdez (2-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings with a 1-2-3 seventh for the win as San Francisco improved to 6-1 in rubber games and 5-0 at home in those contests. The Giants are 8-1 in home series this season.Brandon Medders struck out Albert Pujols to end the sixth, Jeremy Affeldt struck out Joe Thurston with runners on first and second to end the eighth and Brian Wilson finished for his 12th save in 15 chances."Today, they saved us," manager Bruce Bochy said of his relievers. "We played good baseball this homestand coming off a tough trip. It's big for this ballclub to bounce back."Pujols doubled, singled twice and scored a run after hitting two home runs in Saturday night's 6-2 victory and was 7-for-11 in the series. St. Louis had a chance in the eighth but Jeremy Affeldt.The Cardinals fell one game back of NL Central-leading Milwaukee heading into June after the Brewers beat Cincinnati 5-2. St. Louis was trying to start June in first place for only the fourth time in Tony La Russa's managerial tenure -- joining the 2000, '05 and '06 teams.The Cardinals now head home from this six-game road trip for eight games in eight days at Busch Stadium.Nick Stavinoha hit a bases-loaded two-run double that gave St. Louis the lead in the fifth. But San Francisco got both runs back in the bottom of the inning, on Edgar Renteria's RBI groundout and Pablo Sandoval's single."We haven't been putting up eight runs a game," St. Louis shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "It'd be nice to give our starters a break. We haven't had that four- or five-run inning to put teams away. That's what we need."Rowand extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a leadoff single in the first, then doubled in the fifth. He rolled his right ankle but it wasn't considered serious. He will be re-evaluated once the team gets to Washington.Aurilia, who entered in a double-switch in the fifth, singled and scored in the fifth then homered leading off the seventh with a drive into the left-field bleachers off Adam Wainwright (5-3) in his 65th at-bat of 2009. Pinch-hitter Bengie Molina provided insurance with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.The Giants hope they can take some momentum from this homestand on their 10-game road trip after going 1-5 on the last out-of-town trek."It's a long trip," Aurilia said. "We're playing teams record-wise who are below us. This is a trip we should try to take advantage of and have a winning record, not a .500 trip."Wainwright was tagged for 10 hits and lost for the first time in five road starts after going 3-0 to start the year away from St. Louis.San Francisco starter Jonathan Sanchez, who ended a six-start winless stretch last Monday against Atlanta, was done after only 4 1/3 innings for his second-shortest outing of the year. But the pitchers who followed did their part.Upgrading the bullpen was one of general manager Brian Sabean's top offseason priorities last winter."We knew it was one thing we needed to improve this offseason and we did," Aurilia said.La Russa batted his pitcher eighth in all three games of the series and has done so every game since May 18. The team is 8-5 during that stretch.
St. Louis RHP Kyle Lohse has been pushed back from his scheduled start Tuesday with soreness in his right forearm and is slated for Thursday against the Reds as long he's medically cleared Monday in St. Louis. He was hit by a pitch by Kansas City's Ron Mahay. RHP Brad Thompson will pitch instead, his first start of the season. ... Sandoval could be playing 1B for a while instead of 3B. 1B Travis Ishikawa doesn't provide as much offense as Sandoval, who returned to the lineup Friday from an elbow injury.