ST. LOUIS (AP) Allen Craig was supposed to be getting a day off. He never put his feet up, stretched and yawned.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ cleanup man made his first pinch-hit appearance of the season count in the go-ahead inning that paved the way for Lance Lynn’s 10th win of the season in a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night.
“There’s not much time,” Craig said. “Things are going to have to align perfectly for that to happen and guys just kept getting on base. We had an opportunity to kind of push right through and it worked out well.”
Matt Holliday homered and drove in two runs, while Yadier Molina batted fourth for the first time this season and walked twice with a double, raising his NL-leading average to .366.
Craig struggled a bit over the previous four games, going 2 for 11 with two RBIs, before coming through on a two-run single with the bases loaded against Hector Rondon during a four-run sixth.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had been thinking about stretching Lynn past 92 pitches with a few days off coming up, but couldn’t pass up a chance to break it open with Craig, who leads the Cardinals with 55 RBIs.
“It was a great at-bat by Allen, to be able to stay sharp all game being in a situation he hasn’t been in for a while,” Matheny said. Great at-bat.”
The Cardinals took three of four from the Cubs and lead the majors with a 47-26 record heading into a weekend interleague series against the Texas Rangers, the team they beat in the 2011 World Series.
Welington Castillo homered leading off the third for the Cubs, who left the bases loaded in the fifth when slumping Starlin Castro fouled out. They’re 20-18 against NL teams outside their division, but just 9-24 against the Central.
“It’s tough, man, but you know, I keep my mind positive,” Castro said. “I can be out of this. I’ll get 700-some at-bats and I’ve got 200 some at-bats now.
“I’ve got four months left, I’ll be aggressive, let’s see what happens.”
Lynn (10-1) allowed a run on three hits in six innings with six strikeouts and has reached double digits in wins before the All-Star break both of his years in the rotation, going 11-4 last year and making the All-Star team. He joined teammate Adam Wainwright and Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann for the league lead.
“Right now when I take the mound, they have all the confidence we’re going to win,” Lynn said. “And they show it from the way they play.”
Lynn retired the side in order four times and is 5-1 against the Cubs, the lone loss coming last month at Wrigley Field. He’s won nine in a row at Busch Stadium and bounced back after winning his ninth game the last time out despite allowing seven runs in five innings.
“He had a whole different disposition today and pitched with a lot of confidence,” Matheny said. “You could tell he had a good feel for the ball.”
Molina was 8 for 13 in the series with a homer and is 11 for 21 overall this season against Chicago with a homer and five RBIs. Holliday earned his first RBI in nine days.
Castro was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and is in an 11-for-85 slump that has dropped his average to .232.
“He’s not the Lone Ranger in all this, you know,” manager Dale Sveum said. “There’s not a whole lot of hitting going on.”
Castillo’s second homer of the season and first since April 8 briefly tied it at 1 after David Freese’s run-scoring groundout off Scott Feldman (6-6) had given the Cardinals the lead. Matt Carpenter scored from second on Holliday’s infield hit, a bouncer between third and short that Castro got his glove on but could not contain.
Feldman retired one of the four hitters he faced in the sixth, the lone out coming on center fielder Ryan Sweeney’s leaping catch at the wall to rob Matt Adams of a homer two at-bats after Holliday hit his 11th, also to straightaway center.
The Cardinals won consecutive games for the first time since June 6-7 after alternating wins and losses for nine games.
Notes: Rookie Tyler Lyons (2-3, 4.65) opposes the Rangers’ Derek Holland (5-4, 3.30) Friday night. … The Cubs’ three-game series against the Astros is their lone home action in a stretch of 19 games with Matt Garza (1-1, 4.98) opposing Dallas Keuchel (4-3, 4.23). … Cardinals starters lead the majors with 41 victories. … Attendance was 175,840 for the four-game series, with the finale of 43,651 just shy of a sellout.