ST. LOUIS -- Fortified by a pregame pep talk from the St. Louis Cardinals' two hitting instructors, David Freese belted his first home run in almost three months.
Freese hit a tiebreaking two-run shot in the third inning and Jaime Garcia won for the sixth time at home as the Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-2 on Sunday for a four-game split heading into the All-Star break. Freese said he had a 20-minute discussion with Mark McGwire and instructor Mike Aldrete "about me just being me."
Biggest Surprises at the Break
At the All-Star break, a couple of teams have been big surprises. The Pirates are over .500 at the break for the first time since 1992 and have the best improvement in the majors compared last year.
Highest increase in winning percentage
entering All-Star break, last two seasons
"I'm not trying to prove I can do this or do that," Freese said. "Just put an 'A' swing on it and let things happen."Albert Pujols had two hits and Matt Holliday had an RBI single and a walk for the Cardinals, who are tied with the Brewers for the NL Central lead and have a roster finally healthy for the second half.They're 3-3 since getting Pujols back from the DL and Freese prospered batting fifth after going 2 for 12 the previous three games batting second. Manager Tony La Russa said he might hit Freese second again against left-handers but likes him a lot more behind the big three of Holliday, Pujols and Lance Berkman."I don't really get mixed up with all that," Freese said. "Maybe I feel more comfortable down there, I don't know. It's just nice to be in the lineup."Ryan Roberts hit a two-run homer for the Diamondbacks, who completed a 5-5 trip and are in second place in the NL West."If they told you this scenario in spring training, you'd take it by all means," said Eric Young, who singled, walked and scored a run. "I think any almost team in baseball would take that for right now."You're still in a good position. That's good, that's good news," Young added.The Cardinals won with the 80th different lineup in 82 games under manager Tony La Russa, who got away with giving rookie backup catcher Tony Cruz his first career start in right field. Cruz made a nice sliding catch on a short flyout by Henry Blanco in the fourth and was replaced for defense in the sixth, with Colby Rasmus going to center and Jon Jay moving to right."Everybody in the dugout got charged up when he made that catch," La Russa said. "That's not what he was there to do, he's just got to make the routine play, but he's an athlete."Roberts' two-run shot in the second was the only damage against Garcia, who entered with a major league-best 0.94 ERA at home and ended the day 6-1 at Busch Stadium with a 1.14 ERA in nine starts. Garcia (9-3) leads the staff in victories a year after finishing third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting and has won his last three starts overall."I feel really good because obviously I'm healthy. The numbers, they're good, too," Garcia said. "But I'm not going to get satisfied or comfortable."Freese answered in the third with his first homer in 13 games off the disabled list from a broken left hand, a two-run opposite-field shot off Zach Duke (2-4) to right. He had been 3 for 24 with no RBIs the previous seven games and in 41 at-bats since returning from a 51-game absence had totaled one double and one RBI.The homer was also the first at home for Freese, a St. Louis native, since May 2, 2010, against the Reds.Fernando Salas worked the ninth for his 16th save in 18 chances, giving up a hit with a strikeout.Duke gave up four runs in six innings. He's 1-4 in eight starts since June 2 and paid dearly for his only walk to Holliday with two outs in the third, one at-bat before Freese connected."We'd like to have better," manager Kirk Gibson said "He's battling. We'd like to have better from everybody and that goes for me, too."The Cardinals got three straight hits in the first, including a double by Pujols and an RBI single by Holliday, and Freese made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.Roberts tied it in the second with a two-run homer, his 11th of the year and first since June 12. It's only the second allowed at home this season by Garcia."He left a pitch in to me, a fastball in," Roberts said. "I just had to lay off the offspeed stuff."
RHP Jake Westbrook (7-4, 5.34) will open the second half for the Cardinals at Cincinnati on Friday, followed by Chris Carpenter (4-7, 3.85) and Garcia. Westbrook has the highest ERA on the rotation and trailed the Reds 5-0 after only 12 pitches on Tuesday. ... Berkman got a scheduled day off, according to La Russa, unrelated to Berkman's upcoming All-Star game appearance. Berkman flied out to the warning track in center as a pinch hitter in the sixth. ... Rasmus was 4 for 22 during the seven-game homestand. ... Yadier Molina hit his 19th double, matching his total from last season. ... Stephen Drew is 2 for 2 as a pinch hitter after singling in the ninth.