The St. Louis Cardinals first baseman's two-run homer in the eighth inning countered a comeback by the New York Mets and helped give the Cardinals a 5-4 win Monday. The homer answered a two-out, two-run pinch-hit home run by Scott Hairston off winning pitcher Marc Rzepczynski in the bottom of the seventh that tied the game, 3-3. It also salvaged a win in the last game of a four-game series in which St. Louis had lost the first three and scored just one run in the first 30 innings. "I knew it was a big hit," said Craig, who also singled, walked, had three RBIs and two runs scored. "Coming back after Hairston hit that homer, obviously we needed to score. ... We're too talented to go through a slump for too long." The Mets not only lost their final game of the home stand, but had yet another injury concern as the team announced after the game that losing pitcher Jon Rauch was sent to the hospital after feeling tenderness in his right elbow. Rauch, who gave up the one-out homer to Craig and a leadoff single in the eighth, later told manager Terry Collins he had felt the tenderness in his elbow. "After he got on the mound, he said, his arm was bothering him," Collins said. New York got another impressive pitching performance by its starter, this time Dillon Gee, but the Cardinals countered with a better one from Kyle Lohse, allowing their slumping offense to find itself in the late comeback win. The Mets trailed 5-3 after Craig hit the homer in the eighth, but squeezed back within one in the bottom of the inning. Josh Thole led off the eighth with a pinch-hit single and Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed with a one-out double against Eduardo Sanchez to put runners on second and third. Andres Torres then made it 5-4 with a sacrifice fly, but Jason Motte came on to get David Wright on a fly to right to end the inning. Motte pitched a perfect ninth to earn his ninth save. Lucas Duda homered for New York, which headed to Washington for a three-game showdown a half-game back of the Nationals and Miami Marlins in the NL East. Lohse shut the Mets down on two hits through six innings, allowing the struggling Cardinals hitters to finally catch up. "It felt good out there," Lohse said. "Made a couple adjustments. I just tried to mix it up, a little bit of everything." Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also mixed things up Monday, juggling his struggling lineup. Craig was dropped to fifth in the batting order from second, with Carlos Beltran moving from fourth to second, Yadier Molina sixth to fourth and David Freese fifth to sixth. The lineup didn't yield much improvement for most of the hitters, but Craig came through with his homer, as well as an RBI single. Gee struck out eight and allowed just one run in the first six innings, but the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead against him in the seventh. Craig led off the inning with a walk and Freese followed with a single. Daniel Descalso hit a check-swing bouncer to Gee, whose throwing error to second allowed Craig to score and make it 2-1. "I think he knew what he wanted to do, he just made a bad throw," Collins said of Gee. Adron Chambers then hit a bouncer up the middle that shortstop Omar Quintanilla bobbled, with Chambers getting credit for a hit, because, the official scorer said, the speedy Chambers likely would have beat out a throw if the ball had been fielded cleanly. One out later, Wright dived to his left to steal a hit from Rafael Furcal and fired to second, but Chambers used that speed to sprint to second and make a fantastic takeout slide on second baseman Daniel Murphy, eliminating the chance of a double play and allowing the run to score. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on an RBI single by Craig to bring in Matt Holliday, who had led off with a double. The Mets tied the score in the bottom of the fourth on Duda's homer to right, his ninth of the season. NOTES: Left-hander Jon Niese, who left Sunday's game due to a rapid heartbeat, will not miss a start, he said after the game. He will undergo a surgical "ablation" at the All-Star break, but was told by doctors he would be fine until then. ... Left-hander Johan Santana will get two days' extra rest instead of one after his 134-pitch no-hitter last Friday, Collins said. Collins said the decision was made to give Santana needed rest and because he didn't want to disrupt R.A. Dickey (8-1) by making him pitch on short rest. Santana will now pitch Friday against the Yankees and Dickey will pitch Thursday. ... On Tuesday, right-hander Chris Young will make his first start since last May after recovering from right shoulder surgery. Jeremy Hefner will start Wednesday. ... Jason Bay (fractured rib) could have joined the Mets by Tuesday, Collins said before the game, but later said it would not happen because Bay was "pretty sick." ... Wright's run scored in the seventh was the 735th of his career, tying him with former Met Jose Reyes for first place on the club's all-time list. ... Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia, who missed his last start with left elbow inflammation, had a flight scheduled to meet the team in Houston and will make his Tuesday start, Matheny said. ... Cardinals center fielder Shane Robinson was feeling better after getting scratched from Sunday's lineup with a migraine, Matheny said, but he opted to start Chambers, who had two hits Sunday.
- Allen Craig