ST. LOUIS -- One swing gave St. Louis a cushion that Milwaukee's Aramis Ramirez couldn't erase, no matter how hard he tried.
David Freese's first-inning grand slam capped a five-run outburst that - combined with single runs in the third and fourth -- was just enough for a 7-6 win over the Brewers on Friday night.
Ramirez belted two three-run homers, the second coming in the sixth to cut the Cardinals' once-sizable lead to a run. But three relievers combined to work 3 2/3 scoreless innings for St. Louis, with Edward Mujica picking up the last three outs for his 12th save in as many tries.
Ramirez had a chance to put Milwaukee (16-24) ahead in the eighth when he batted after Ryan Braun's leadoff infield single. But he swung through Trevor Rosenthal's 3-2 fastball and Yadier Molina cut Braun down at second for a double play.
Jaime Garcia (5-2) got the win for the Cardinals (27-14), who improved to 6-2 on their 10-game homestand and expanded their National League Central lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to 2 1/2 games.
Milwaukee entered the night with a major-league-best 35-9 run differential in the first inning, but it was St. Louis jumping all over the Brewers with both feet.
After Garcia worked a 1-2-3 first on six pitches, the Cardinals lit up Wily Peralta. Matt Carpenter led off with a single, moved to second on Carlos Beltran's infield out and scored on Matt Holliday's sharp single to center.
Allen Craig walked and Molina singled to fill the bases, but Jon Jay fanned for the second out. However, Freese matched his season RBI total of four in one swing -- a 419-foot grand slam over the center-field wall for a 5-0 lead.
Jay singled Craig home from third base for a 6-0 advantage in the third, but Milwaukee cut the deficit in half an inning later when Ramirez rifled a three-run homer over the left-field wall.
St. Louis responded in its half of the fourth with Holliday's two-out bloop single to right center, scoring Carpenter.
NOTES: St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook experienced a minor setback in his recovery from right elbow inflammation when he required a shot to break up scar tissue. Westbrook was disabled on May 9, but likely won't be able to pitch until sometime in June. ... Milwaukee's decision to activate RHP Francisco Rodriguez and demote C/1B Blake Lalli means it is carrying 13 pitchers and just four reserves on its 25-man roster. The Brewers have just two left-handed hitters among position players. ... The Cardinals are in the middle of a stretch where they're playing 13 straight games against teams with losing records.