Superb Garcia, Holliday's big swing carry Cards

Homer backs left-hander's first eight-inning outing since August 2012

Superb Garcia, Holliday's big swing carry Cards

ST. LOUIS -- The first month of the Cardinals' season can be seen through a variety of lenses. There has been the very good (starting pitching), the so-so (offense) and the mostly ugly (bullpen). But nonetheless, it has added up to a respectable 15 wins -- a total that is tied for the most in the National League Central.

Every one of those wins has been credited to the rotation, which delivered 18 quality starts in 26 chances. The latest came from lefty Jaime Garcia, whose efficient dominance on Tuesday ensured that the Cardinals wouldn't have to ask for much help from their troubled bullpen. A two-run homer by Matt Holliday made Garcia the winner as the Cardinals topped the Reds, 2-1, at Busch Stadium.

"As an offense we've been fighting a little bit, especially with as well as our pitchers have been pitching," Holliday said. "It was nice to get Jaime a couple of runs. It was enough, so we'll take it."

For five and a half innings, it appeared as though the Cardinals' recently anemic offense was headed toward squandering another strong start, having already wasted a seven-inning, two-run performance by Adam Wainwright in the series opener.

Reds starter Bronson Arroyo kept the Cards from advancing a runner into scoring position during those first five frames. That changed, however, with Holliday's sixth-inning swing.

Following a single by Carlos Beltran -- who had three hits in his return to the lineup after a bout with the stomach flu -- Holliday laid off three sinkers to work the count to 3-0. With two straight curveballs, Arroyo pushed the count full. In making his next pitch selection, Arroyo explained afterward, he feared that Holliday would not swing at a sinker.

The righty didn't want to issue a walk, which would have put two men on for cleanup hitter Allen Craig, so he went back to the curve.

Holliday wasn't necessarily expecting it -- "It's one of those deals with him that I try not to guess, because he'll throw any pitch in any count," he said -- but he connected anyway, poking the pitch just over the wall in left-center.

The two-run blast doubled the Cardinals' run total from their previous 23 innings.

"You take your chances and play the best odds you can," said Arroyo, who has now served up four homers to Holliday in 49 at-bats. "He's just so strong. There's maybe a handful of guys in this game that can hit the ball out of the ballpark with that low of trajectory, especially with the wind not blowing out tonight."

The Cardinals' first home run since Friday gave the team its first lead since Saturday.

"Once again, not a lot of the production that we know we're still going to get," manager Mike Matheny said. "But it was good to see that timely hit and Matt getting hold of one."

Garcia ensured that the lead would hold, retiring the final seven batters he faced in his first eight-inning start since Aug. 19, 2012. He earned his third win of the season in the process, ensuring that three of the Cardinals' starters would end April with at least that many.

He sealed the starting staff's April ERA at 2.15 and lowered his own to 2.50.  

"Those guys have been unbelievable so far," Garcia said of his rotation-mates. "I feel like when the starter the night before goes out and does something really good, you want to continue to do that. We have a really good thing going on so far."

Garcia used a double play to escape trouble in the second and wouldn't encounter much more until the fifth, which began with Devin Mesoraco's leadoff single. With two out, Shin-Soo Choo delivered an RBI double to put the Reds ahead.  

But Garcia stranded Choo at second base and never allowed the Reds to push another runner that far. He used Cincinnati's aggressiveness to his advantage, too, getting a lot of quick outs, which translated into efficient innings.

"I saw early that they were taking some swings," he said. "It's a really good lineup. They put some really good at-bats together every single time. The main thing for me was just trying to execute that pitch down, make them hit it on the ground."

He did so with success.

In his 92-pitch night, Garcia recorded 18 of his 24 outs via ground balls. He now has nine career wins over the Reds, which is more than double his best total against any other club.

"Jaime was as good as you could ever ask," Matheny said. "He did everything right."

Though Garcia hardly looked to be tiring late, Matheny indicated that it was an easy call to keep him from returning to pitch the ninth. With the Reds' offensive core -- Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce -- looming, Matheny didn't like the idea of having Garcia face them for the fourth time.

And so he dispatched newly minted closer Edward Mujica, one of the few bright spots to emerge from the bullpen this month, who improved to 5-for-5 in save situations by striking out the side.

"They gave me the ball in the ninth to try and hold the lead, and I did a pretty good job tonight," Mujica said. "I feel pretty good right now. Matheny has given me the opportunity, and I try to do the best that I can for the team."

With the win, the Cardinals put an end to a season-long three-game losing streak. They also leapfrogged the losing Pirates to regain the top spot in the division.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.