ST. LOUIS -- With the bases loaded, two outs and the game tied in the top of the seventh, Charlie Manuel let his pitcher, Joe Blanton, hit. It was all downhill from there for the sagging Philadelphia Phillies.
Rookie Jaime Garcia struck out Blanton on three pitches to end the threat and Matt Holliday hit the go-ahead home run on Blanton's first pitch in the bottom of the seventh as the St. Louis Cardinals made it eight straight wins with a 5-1 victory Wednesday night.
Manuel didn't second-guess his decision to let Blanton hit. He blamed the rest of the lineup after the Phillies scored one or fewer runs for the 23rd time.
"What can I say?" Manuel said. "About every day we do the same thing. We don't hit and we don't score enough runs."
Felipe Lopez had two RBIs for the NL Central leaders, whose streak is the franchise's best since winning eight straight from Aug. 27-Sept. 5, 2004. Ryan Franklin got Jayson Werth on a groundout with two on to end the eighth and finished for his 18th save in 19 chances.
St. Louis has beaten the two-time defending NL champions three straight games by a 20-6 total and will go for the sweep behind 14-game winner Adam Wainwright on Thursday.
Ryan Howard hit his 22nd homer for the Phillies, who have lost six of seven since the All-Star break and are only two games above .500 (48-46). Blanton (3-6) tired in the eighth, giving up a two-run double with no outs to Lopez after catcher Carlos Ruiz' throwing error on a sacrifice, and Colby Rasmus added a sacrifice fly in a three-run inning.
Blanton said he wasn't surprised Manuel let him hit.
"Obviously, I wanted to stay in the game," Blanton said. "He's a great manager. It's a tough call."
Manuel said if there would have been one out he would have used a pinch-hitter but his top two options were left-handers against Garcia, a lefty. He also noted that Blanton had thrown only 74 pitches.
"It's 1-1, he had a chance to win the game. It didn't work out," Manuel said. "You've got to make it one way or another. Is it tough? Hell, no. Nothing tough about it. What you do is what you do."
Werth is batting .280, but only .159 with runners in scoring position. He's not the only Phillies player struggling.
"I've been giving everyone in that locker room a chance," Manuel said. "If you can hit, please do. That's not taking a shot at one guy, it's covering a lot of territory."
Garcia (9-4) retired the first 12 batters in order before Howard became the first left-handed hitter to homer off him leading off the fifth. He struggled only in his final inning when the Phillies loaded the bases on two walks and Jimmy Rollins' single before he struck out Blanton.
"It's a 1-1 game," Garcia said. "I was just trying, whoever it was, to make a pitch."
Garcia lowered his ERA to 2.21, rebounding from two iffy starts in which he gave up 17 hits in 5 2/3 innings, although he gave up only four earned runs. He needed 70 pitches to get through six innings before throwing 25 in the seventh, taking advantage the Phillies' aggressive hitters.
"Every time you go out there you try to learn from the mistakes and make sure it doesn't happen again," Garcia said. "I'm not going to say it's easy. No matter what happens the last outing you've got to flush it out."
Holliday lined Blanton's first pitch of the seventh over the left field wall for his 18th homer, a drive estimated at 423 feet. He has homered in consecutive games and is 9 for 19 with six RBIs since the break.
The start of the game was delayed for 25 minutes by rain.
St. Louis 1B Albert Pujols stole his team-leading 11th base and second in as many games in the fourth after his RBI single, but was picked off on Rasmus' strikeout for an inning-ending double play. ... Phillies 2B Cody Ransom made a diving stop up the middle to start a double play on Pujols' grounder to end the sixth. ... The Cardinals are 34-15 at home. ... Despite losing three straight the Phillies (12-8) are one of only two teams with a winning record at 5-year-old Busch Stadium. Milwaukee is 22-19. ... Rollins, moved to sixth in the order to bust his slump, was 1 for 4. ... Pujols drew his major league-leading 24th intentional walk, a total that tops 18 teams, in the eighth. Holliday is batting .286 (4 for 14) with two homers and seven RBIs following intentional walks to Pujols. ... Howard has 244 homers with the Phillies for fourth on the franchise list, moving ahead of Chuck Klein. ... Phillies 2B Placido Polanco was 0 for 4, ending a 12-game hitting streak.