ST. LOUIS -- Brendan Ryan's first hit Saturday is going to get all the attention. His third hit was the most important.
Ryan connected for an outfielder-assisted homer and singled in the winning run in the ninth inning, lifting St. Louis to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs that reduced the Cardinals' magic number for clinching the NL Central to four.
Left fielder Bobby Scales had Ryan's fifth-inning drive in his glove as he banged into the 8-foot-high fence. But it popped out and over for Ryan's third homer of the season and the Cardinals' only run off Ryan Dempster. It appeared the ball probably would've hit the top of the fence on its own, and Scales slapped his glove against his knee and kicked the air in frustration after the play.
"Holy cow," Ryan said. "He kept going and kept going and kept going and next thing I knew he got a glove on it and I couldn't tell what happened. I kind of sped up for a second and then I saw it in the bullpen and was totally shocked.
"I guess he got an assist."
The 31-year-old Scales is in his first major league season after a long career in the minors, mostly as an infielder. He was making his 10th start in left but offered no excuses after a rough day, even punishing himself by watching several replays of the homer.
"I'm going to be thinking about that one for a while," Scales said. "It just makes you sick."
The Cardinals beat the Cubs in the ninth inning for the second straight game, this time prevailing after Ryan Franklin's third blown save in his last five appearances. Franklin (4-3) allowed two hits and a tying sacrifice fly to Jeff Baker in the ninth.
Chris Carpenter threw eight crisp innings for St. Louis after getting an extra day of rest. Carpenter was coming off a shaky start against Atlanta that ended his 13-start unbeaten streak, during which he won 11 consecutive decisions.
St. Louis had three singles off Carlos Marmol (2-4) in the ninth and Ryan's one-out liner to left with runners on first and third ended it.
"Any right-handed hitter facing Marmol, that's not comfortable," Ryan said. "But you've got the crowd behind you, everybody's charged and I'm getting an opportunity to win the game."
Scales had two other adventures in the field, neither of which cost the Cubs. He misplayed Carpenter's hit down the line in the seventh, then slipped and fell as the pitcher took an extra base for a two-out double. He went to his knees to snare Matt Holliday's knuckling liner to end the eighth.
A day earlier, he took the wrong angle on Mark DeRosa's drive down the third-base line and had to give chase as the ball scooted around the base of the wall. DeRosa ended up with an RBI triple.
"This is my first time in the big leagues and everybody knows the story, but I've played enough outfield and particularly left field in my career to not make the mistakes I've made the last two days," Scales said. "It's unacceptable."
Manager Lou Piniella wasn't hard on Scales, judging he was trying too hard.
"What are you going to do?" Piniella said. "We squandered opportunities, too."
Yadier Molina added three hits and Skip Schumaker had two for the Cardinals, seeking a return to the postseason after a two-year absence. They've taken a pair of one-run decisions in the first two games of a three-game series against the second-place Cubs, shaking off a 1-5 stretch.
The Cubs loaded the bases before Derrek Lee flied out to end the fifth and had runners in scoring position in the three innings prior to that opportunity.
Dempster allowed eight hits in eight innings, topping 1,600 career innings in the process. He struck out six, including the 4-5-6 hitters in order in the sixth.
"I know what the feeling is like when you walk off and win the game," Dempster said. "It's not fun to sit there and watch them have that much fun."
Franklin has five blown saves in 42 chances overall. ... Cubs RF Milton Bradley (sore left knee) was scratched after taking batting practice and has missed the last two games. His replacement, Micah Hoffpauir, was 3 for 4. ... Ryan Ludwick was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Dempster, after entering 8 for 16 with a homer and three RBIs. Piniella isn't sure when Bradley will play next. ... The Cardinals' Triple-A Memphis affiliate swept a three-game series from Sacramento for its first PCL title since 2000 and has a single-game playoff against International League champion Durham on Tuesday in Oklahoma City for the Triple-A title. ... After hitting three straight doubles in the first Friday, the Cubs haven't had an extra-base hit the last 17 innings.