The Cardinals' offense erupted in the first, fourth and eighth innings, and the team's bullpen came to the rescue after starter Todd Wellemeyer struggled, in an 11-6 St. Louis win over the Marlins on Monday night. The victory ended a three-game losing streak, kept the Cards' lead at 9 1/2 games over the Cubs in the National League Central, and dropped their magic number for clinching the division to 10.
It wasn't easy, despite what the final score says. But it was emphatic.
The Cardinals banged out 17 base hits against five Florida pitchers. Meanwhile, five St. Louis relievers combined to pitch five shutout innings, picking up Wellemeyer.
"The bullpen was outstanding," said manager Tony La Russa. "I mean everybody that pitched got humongous outs. We got 11 [runs], but I don't know if we win if they keep adding runs here or there, even a point or two. So you cannot give the bullpen enough credit."
Wellemeyer threw strikes but had little else to recommend his effort. In what may very well have been his last start in a Cardinals uniform -- he's eligible for free agency after the season -- the right-hander was simply knocked around.
He surrendered nine hits in four innings, three of them for extra bases. He did strike out three against one walk, but Wellemeyer sustained far too much hard contact. Handed a 4-0 lead, he couldn't make it stand for even four innings, and that tells the story. Chris Coghlan tripled home two runs with two outs in the fourth, and Nick Johnson followed that with a go-ahead, two-run homer -- on an 0-2 pitch, no less.
"I definitely got tired there after about 70 [pitches] or so," said Wellemeyer, who hadn't started a Major League game since July 26. "But my legs still felt good. I might have just been coming open a little bit too much there at the end."
After Wellemeyer came out, the Redbirds pitched beautifully. Blake Hawksworth got the win in relief for his 1 1/3 shutout innings. Dennys Reyes contributed two outs on a force play and a pickoff, and Kyle McClellan got five very big outs in the seventh and eighth. Trever Miller retired one batter while the lead was still a single run, and then the Cardinals broke it open, turning a close game into a laugher.
Perhaps the best part of the whole night was the final rally, which bought another night off for closer Ryan Franklin. Jason Motte pitched a shutout, hitless ninth inning to finish off the game.
"Coming in, we knew Welley's pitch count was going to be down," McClellan said. "We knew we were probably going to be in there early and expected to cover a couple innings. That's part of the bullpen."
With the bullpen holding the visitors at bay, the St. Louis offense did its job, and splendidly so. Four singles and a double added up to four first-inning runs, with Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick both stroking two-run singles. Julio Lugo cracked a two-run triple in the fourth, and Albert Pujols hit a sacrifice fly that was ultimately the game-winning hit.
That added up to seven off of Nolasco, who had allowed three or fewer runs in eight of his previous 10 starts.
"I just have to tip my cap to that team over there," the right-hander said. "I made tons of good pitches. They fouled off the good pitches. And the good pitches, they still got the bat on it. A lot of balls were falling for them. That's just the kind of hitting team they are. I pitched ahead most of the game. They just hit good pitches. There isn't much I can do but tip my cap to that team over there. That's one of the best lineups in the league."
Brendan Donnelly and Renyel Pinto kept the score close in the sixth and seventh, but the Cards jumped on Matt Lindstrom in the eighth. Three walks, one of them intentional, loaded the bases, and Holliday knocked an RBI double. Colby Rasmus followed with a three-run homer that put the game out of reach.
"[I hit a] changeup," Rasmus said. "I thought he might throw me a slider, and I just caught it out front. I was just trying to battle."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.