ST. LOUIS -- Trying to explain his 3 for 32 slump earlier in the day, Carlos Beltran said he just hadn't been seeing the ball very well lately. But the St. Louis Cardinals cleanup hitter added several times, it was nothing to worry about.
Beltran said bye-bye to the bad times in a big way, driving in a career-best seven runs with a pair of three-run home runs and RBI single in the first three innings, leading the way as the Cardinals punished A.J. Burnett and the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-3 on Tuesday night.
"Lately, God knows, I've been searching at the plate, trying to find my swing, trying to feel comfortable, trying to be able to go out there and have quality at-bats," Beltran said. "This game can be like this. It's a funny game. You have to stay positive."
Manager Mike Matheny found it somewhat humorous after so much pre-game attention was devoted to discussing Beltran's tailspin.
"I think the one person that wasn't even beginning to panic was Carlos," Matheny said. "He just knows what he's doing. It was nice to see him have a huge day like that."
Matheny had been set to give Beltran a day off on Thursday and wasn't sure whether the big day changed anything.
Rookie Lance Lynn (5-0) joined James Shields as the major leagues' only five-game winners, allowing three hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings with six strikeouts to beat the Pirates for the second time in three starts. Lynn has a 1.60 ERA as the replacement starter for Chris Carpenter, sidelined indefinitely with nerve issues in his right shoulder.
"It means we have five wins when I'm pitching, so that's good," Lynn said. "That's all I'm trying to do is help us win when I'm out there. I'm off to a good start and the team's really been carrying me."
Burnett (1-2) entered with a 1.38 ERA, and worked seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals for his lone victory on April 21 at home, but trailed 4-0 after six pitches. The right-hander surrendered 12 runs on 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings, as the Pirates tried to save their bullpen.
"I stunk," Burnett said. "There is nothing more I can say. I was up all night, I couldn't get anything down. It doesn't matter who you pitch against, if you get your pitches up you're going to get hammered."
The runs allowed topped Burnett's previous worst of nine on four occasions, the last time Aug. 26, 2011 at Baltimore. He allowed 12 or more hits for the seventh time, exiting one shy of his career worst Aug. 3, 2011 at the Chicago White Sox.
Pirates catcher Rod Barajas was ejected for complaining about home plate umpire Angel Campos' calls in the second inning, tossing his mask in disgust after a pitch called a ball for a 1-2 count against Beltran. Manager Clint Hurdle was subsequently tossed for defending his player, his first of the season and sixth in his second season with Pittsburgh.
"Things just kind of got a little heated," Barajas said. "I felt one way, he felt the other way. You get a little frustrated when things don't go the way you think they should."
Hurdle said he was frustrated because "We've had some disagreements for two days out there. Rod was out there trying to protect his pitcher, making sure we got a fair shake."
Beltran had one double among his three hits and three RBIs the last nine games, a slump that started three games after he was moved to cleanup. He said after batting practice that he hadn't been seeing the ball well but several times expressed confidence it would be over soon, then turned it around with his first swing, a three-run shot to right that made it 4-0.
"When I hit the first one out, it was a changeup, I was able to stay on that pitch and drive it out of the ballpark," Beltran said. "It's always a good feeling knowing that you're staying back, you're seeing the ball well.
"After that i was able to feed off that."
Beltran had an RBI single in the second before launching another three-run homer in the third that made it 12-1, a drive to left center for Beltran's team-leading seventh homer after a replay overturned the initial umpire ruling and justified fireworks and a sign in the shape of a truck grill that blinked its headlights even though Beltran initially had to put the brakes on at second base.
Beltran topped his previous RBI high of six and he added a broken-bat single in the fifth to match a career best with his 21st four-hit game.
The top four in the lineup -- Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday and Beltran -- were a combined 9 for 9 with two homers, 10 RBIs and seven runs the first three innings. Jay had three hits and was hit by a pitch his first four trips and is batting .429 with an 11-game hitting streak.
The Cardinals have outscored the Pirates 22-10 the first two games. It was the most lopsided loss for Pittsburgh since a 15-1 whipping at Los Angeles Sept. 18.
The NL Central leaders have won five of six and will go for a three-game sweep Thursday with Jake Westbrook (3-1) opposing Erik Bedard (1-4). The Cardinals have outscored their opponents by 65 runs, best in the majors, after 24 games.
Umpire C.B. Buckner, who left Tuesday's game in the seventh inning due to illness, was replaced by D.J. Reyburn manning 3B. ... Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen got his first day off. ... Cardinals C Yadier Molina stole two bases in a game for the second time in his career on Tuesday, and despite a distinct lack of speed he's 4 for 4 on the year. ... The Pirates have been outscored 22-7 in the first innings. ... Jay is 21 for 43 (.488) during his hitting streak. ... Josh Harrison had a pair of RBI singles for Pittsburgh, the first as a pinch hitter in the seventh. ... Lynn has six career victories, all against NL Central opponents.