Some questioned if Albert Pujols was ready to return from a broken left wrist almost a month ahead of schedule after he struggled during his first three games back.
The three-time NL MVP, however, surely put those doubts to rest with his latest offensive outburst.
After battling back in the third meeting of this four-game set with the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks, Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals look to split the series Sunday and head into the All-Star break with at least a share of the NL Central lead.
St. Louis (48-43) was on the verge of its first four-game home losing streak of the season Saturday before erasing a four-run deficit. Pujols hit a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning, and the Cardinals prevailed 7-6 on Tony Cruz's pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth, pulling even with Milwaukee atop the division.
"I'm right where I want to be and it feels good to help the ballclub win," said Pujols, who had gone 1 for 12 since returning prior to Saturday's 3-for-4 performance. "I was just part of that group and it feels good to be part of that group. That's how you need to win some games, getting a lot of help from the bench and guys coming through big-time."
The Diamondbacks (49-42) still lead the majors with 21 road wins since May 14, but they could be in for a difficult matchup against Jaime Garcia (8-3, 3.23 ERA), who has thrived in front of his home crowd.
The left-hander owns an MLB-best 0.94 ERA at home and improved to 5-1 in St. Louis after allowing one run and two hits in six innings of Tuesday's 8-1 win over Cincinnati.
"I'm trying to do my best at not worrying about what's going on offensively, or with the other pitcher," said Garcia, who overcame a career-worst-tying five walks in as many innings to earn the victory in a 5-2 win in Phoenix on June 11, 2010 - his only appearance in this series.
While Garcia will attempt to focus solely on Arizona's lineup, his counterpart's struggles at Busch Stadium are difficult to ignore.
Zach Duke (2-3, 5.40), who spent the first six years of his career with Pittsburgh, went 1-5 with a 5.36 ERA over seven starts in St. Louis for the Pirates.
The left-hander also struggled in back-to-back road outings at Florida and Detroit last month, yielding 13 runs over 8 2-3 innings, but he seemed to turn a corner during Tuesday's 7-3 victory at Milwaukee.
Duke surrendered two runs and five hits over seven innings en route to his first victory in seven starts overall since his May 28 season debut.
"I feel like I've been close the past few times, things haven't quite worked out for me," he told the Diamondbacks' official website. "I definitely feel like the work that I've been doing is on the right path and I'm going to keep doing."
Duke, however, can't be happy about seeing Pujols heat up. The slugging first baseman has gone 17 for 41 (.415) with four homers and four doubles against him.
Matt Holliday, who has gone 9 for 23 with four homers while hitting safely in five straight contests, is 9 for 20 with a homer off Duke.
Garcia will look to limit Arizona's Chris Young, who extended his hitting streak against St. Louis to seven games with Saturday's 2-for-4 effort. Young is 11 for 28 with five extra-base hits during his run.