By Jenifer Langosch and Oliver Macklin
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals' 10-game road trip came to an end Sunday in San Francisco, where they capped it with a 7-5 victory over the Giants that featured the team's sixth three-homer game of the year.
St. Louis ambushed opposing starter Chris Heston, who allowed three runs before retiring his first batter. Matt Carpenter's leadoff homer preceded later solo shots from Brandon Moss and Mark Reynolds as the Cardinals padded their lead. The Cardinals scored in five innings to keep the Giants from pecking away at the deficit.
"We've drooped our heads walking off this field too many times," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team was eliminated at AT&T Park in both the 2012 and 2014 postseasons. "It's a good team that knows how to win, and I think it's a good test when we play a team like this."
The win gave the Cardinals their second series victory over the Giants this month and helped them add to their National League Central lead, which is now 4 1/2 games over Pittsburgh. The Giants remained 3 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.
"We actually swung the bats well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Pitching was off a little bit. You hate to go through your bullpen as much as we did."
While Heston (11-8) was out of the game after allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings, Cards starter Jaime Garcia (7-4) pitched into the seventh. Garcia gave up a pair of RBI doubles to Marlon Byrd, who drove in three of the Giants' four runs off the St. Louis lefty. With his 6 1/3-inning start, Garcia has now finished at least six innings in 13 of his 14 games this year.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Quick start: The Cardinals, who scored just one run against Heston in his Aug. 17 start in St. Louis, plated three runs before Heston threw his 14th pitch Sunday. It marked the third time on this road trip that the Cardinals scored at least three first-inning runs. Garcia was the beneficiary in two of those games. The Cardinals have now scored 67 runs in the first inning this year, making it the team's second-most productive inning.
"You guys brought it up to me earlier in the year that we weren't scoring runs when I was pitching," said Garcia, who has averaged 2.5 runs of support this season. "But I said I'm not concerned about it because as long as we continue to have success overall, that's the main thing. My part is to continue to go out there and give us a chance to win every fifth day."
Happy Byrd day: Byrd started his 38th birthday off on the right note when he smacked a two-run double to right field in the first inning. He presented himself with a second gift in the sixth, hitting a nearly identical spot on the right-field wall with another double that drove in a run. In his final at-bat, Byrd cranked an RBI triple to cap off a stellar afternoon at the plate.
"He kept us in the ballgame today and gave us a chance to win," third baseman Matt Duffy said. More >
Dive and drive: Before Moss connected for his second home run in four games, he prevented the Giants from potentially tying the game by robbing Byrd of a hit with a diving catch. Moss laid out to make the grab with two outs and runners on the corners in the third. He then came up second in the next half-inning and drilled a ball into the center-field seats.
"My at-bats are continuing to feel a lot better than they were," Moss said. "I'm recognizing pitches a lot better and as a result, I feel like I'm squaring up more. I was squaring up some early, but when you square up one out of every five or six balls that you hit, you can't really expect that great of results all the time."
Top heavy: The top of the Giants' batting order certainly got the memo it was Byrd's birthday, but the bottom half must have missed out. Byrd, Nori Aoki, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey combined to go 12-for-17 off Cardinals pitching while the rest of the lineup went 0-for-20.
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The Cardinals are a season-best 38 games over .500, marking the first time they've been that far above the .500 mark since finishing the 2005 season with a 100-62 record.
For the second time in eight days, Jason Heyward came to bat in the ninth needing a home run to become the first Cardinals batter to hit for the cycle since Mark Grudzielanek in 2005. Heyward didn't realize he was that close to a cycle last Sunday but did as he faced Santiago Casilla on Sunday. He grounded out in that last at-bat.
"[After last Sunday] I asked [Michael] Wacha to tell me next time and he said, 'I'll tell you in a couple days,'" Heyward said. "He told me today before my last at-bat, but that guy was a tough one to face. I'm just glad we won."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: With a 7:15 p.m. CT game against the Nationals on Monday, the Cardinals will open a nine-game homestand against three teams in contention for postseason berths. RIght-hander John Lackey draws the series-opening start against Washington. Lackey has allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his last 14 starts.
Giants: San Francisco hits the road for a 10-game trip that begins in Los Angeles on Monday night with a 7:10 p.m. PT start. Jake Peavy, who gets the start in the opener for the Giants, beat the Cubs his last time out, allowing two runs over 6 1/3 innings.