"I felt good -- ready to go," he said. "I made good pitches, kept them off-balance with off-speed pitches. It was hot, yeah, but I like it. Helps me stay loose."
This is the Billingsley the Dodgers drafted in the first round, who reached the Major Leagues at age 21, who was given a three-year contract in 2011. This is the Billingsley the Dodgers thought would evolve into the Don Drysdale role in support of Clayton Kershaw as Sandy Koufax.
But Billingsley has gone the other way, leading the Dodgers in losses this year at 5-9. Manager Don Mattingly has called Billingsley "an enigma," so his praise even after this win was measured.
"Chad was pretty good tonight," Mattingly said. "Anything that got started, he pitched well enough to get out of it. He got enough big outs and was throwing enough strikes."
Mattingly complimented the pitcher for not letting the Cardinals back in the game after Cruz's home run turned a 1-0 Cardinals lead into a 3-1 Dodgers lead.
"You talk about the shut-down inning," Mattingly said. "We get three and Chad throws a zero and that kept the momentum in the dugout all the way through."
There was more praise for Cruz, the journeyman who not only is playing a reliable shortstop in place of the injured Dee Gordon but has a modest six-game hitting streak and has recorded at least one RBI in his past four games. The second-inning home run off rookie Joe Kelly was his second in the past four games.
"I'm just happy they are giving me the chance to play every day," said Cruz, a Mexico native who had three previous callups with other clubs for a total of 56 games played. "Playing every day, I feel more comfortable. I was up before with other teams, but they never gave me this chance.
"I think I'm a different player right now than then, I feel more comfortable at the plate. I think winter ball helped me a lot because I play year-round. I can hit the ball up the middle now and I don't know if I could do that when I was 25, but I can do it now."
"He's no punch-and-Judy," Mattingly said of Cruz, 28. "He's got pop."
Mark Ellis' two-run double in the seventh provided crucial insurance runs, as Carlos Beltran slugged a two-run homer off Ronald Belisario in the eighth inning. Belisario has been scored upon in five of his last eight appearances after allowing runs in only three of his first 28 games.
"The one thing I liked is that Belly came back [after Beltran's homer] and ended the inning," Mattingly said. "He can get mad and frustrated. A.J. [Ellis] did a good job settling him down and he got [Lance] Berkman and [Yadier] Molina and got us to the bottom of the order."
Kenley Jansen, unavailable Sunday after saving games Friday and Saturday, struck out two in a perfect ninth inning for his 19th save.
Billingsley shook off some early trouble. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Jon Jay doubled and Matt Holliday walked. After Beltran struck out, Berkman singled past first baseman Juan Rivera to score Jay.
The Dodgers answered in the second inning with a lot of help from the Cardinals. Andre Ethier led off with a grounder booted at first for an error by Berkman and took second on Kelly's wild pitch. Adam Kennedy's difficult popup to short left was dropped by former Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal as he put on the brakes to avoid running into left fielder Holliday, with Ethier holding second.
Cruz was next and he sent a 2-2 pitch that just cleared the fence and a leaping Holliday for a three-run shot.
"This was one of those games, being from Southern California and I never really liked the Dodgers growing up, maybe I might have tried too hard on some pitches and maybe that got to me," said Kelly, who attended UC Riverside and was an Angels fan.
The Dodgers added to the lead in the seventh after singles by A.J. Ellis and pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn, both scoring on a double by Mark Ellis.