Having dropped six out of seven and coming off one of their most lopsided losses of the year, the Cardinals arrived in Atlanta needing a break. They got several, starting even before the teams took the field. They took advantage of a depleted Braves team, steamrolling to a 12-3 win in the opener of a four-game series.
Atlanta had to rely on an emergency starter, rookie Charlie Morton, because a rain delay forced Jo-Jo Reyes into action the day before. The Braves placed Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones on the disabled list before the game, and Brian McCann was unavailable due to a concussion.
Suddenly the Redbirds' issues didn't seem quite so oppressive. After all, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are on the way back, and Rick Ankiel is the only everyday member of the Cards lineup currently shelved.
"I know that any time you put the guys on the disabled list that they put today, it makes it tougher," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's no fun to compete that way. But they're still the Braves, and I know who's in the other dugout [manager Bobby Cox]."
Rookie Joe Mather spearheaded the attack against Morton, driving a two-run homer to left field in the second inning for the first runs of the game. He also doubled in the third and singled and scored in the fifth. In five at-bats, Mather raised his batting average from .218 to .250.
In addition to jumping on Morton, the Cardinals also took advantage of a shaky defensive game by the Braves. Never was that more evident than in the third.
With runners on the corners, Yadier Molina lifted a deep fly ball to center field. The ball traveled over Mark Kotsay's head for a double, and when the Braves tried to throw out Troy Glaus at home, Yunel Escobar's throw skittered far away from catcher Clint Sammons, allowing Molina to score. Those three runs gave St. Louis a 6-0 lead and put the game out of reach.
Yet the Redbirds kept at it, scoring in five different innings to give lots of breathing room to starter Braden Looper and three relievers.
"Everyone was going up with quality [at-bats]," Mather said. "A lot of stuff fell for us and we had a lot of good swings."
Looper was effective but not brilliant for St. Louis, throwing plenty of strikes with the lead in hand. He was frustrated by a lack of bite on some of his pitches, but he had enough command to make up for it and hold onto a lead.
The right-hander gave up a good bit of hard contact but held Atlanta to two runs on seven hits over seven innings. He turned in his first quality start since July 4 and picked up his first win since June 24.
"I definitely didn't have as good of stuff as I've had in a while," Looper said. "My offspeed was not very good. But I had really good fastball command. I was able to locate my fastball on both sides of the plate. And we got a lead, so I was able to throw a lot of fastballs."
And then there was the matter of the lineup -- Looper isn't giving back his 10th win, but neither is he complaining about who he had to face.
"It definitely doesn't hurt me to not have Chipper and McCann and those guys in there," he said.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.