ST. LOUIS -- And on the 21st day, they'll rest.
Finishing a taxing, mostly unsuccessful stretch of 21 games in 20 days, St. Louis scored the last four runs Sunday to notch an 8-4 win over the Chicago Cubs and avoid a sweep of the three-game series.
Pete Kozma's two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning snapped a 4-4 tie for the Cardinals, who rapped out 13 hits. Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig each collected three hits, two runs and an RBI.
St. Louis (67-50) finished its grueling run of games at 8-13, enduring losing streaks of seven and four games while falling from first to second place in the National League Central behind Pittsburgh. The Pirates' 3-2 loss in Colorado on Sunday cut their lead down to three games.
With Pittsburgh coming to Busch Stadium on Tuesday night to open up a three-game series, the Cardinals at least managed to build a bit of momentum.
"Definitely a big win for us," Kozma said. "We haven't had a lot of off days since the All-Star break. It's going to be huge."
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny joked, "I'm locking the doors of the clubhouse in case anyone has any stupid ideas about breaking in."
It was a much more jovial scene in the Cardinals' locker room than after Saturday night's 6-5 loss to the Cubs, when only two St. Louis players spoke to the media after the game and an office door was violently slammed.
The only thing getting slammed less than 24 hours later were baseballs off bats. St. Louis delivered three two-out RBI hits, its offensive staple for most of the season, and drew six walks from five Chicago pitchers.
"You look at their averages with two outs and runners in scoring position, and it's unbelievable," Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said. "I had to do a double-take when I saw Allen Craig's. I guess we saw today what they've been doing this year."
With the score even at 4-4, Tony Cruz drilled a double to right-center field and Kozma followed by lining an 0-1 offering into center field, scoring Cruz ahead of David DeJesus' throw.
St. Louis added a run in the seventh on Jon Jay's sacrifice fly and two more in the eighth on RBI doubles by Carpenter and Craig.
Randy Choate (2-1) got the last out in the top of the sixth to pick up the win, while Blake Parker (1-2) drew the loss less than 24 hours after earning his first major league victory. Edward Mujica pitched the last two innings for his 31st save, his first since July 25.
Mujica had pitched just three times in the last 17 games, largely because of the team's slump. Factoring that in with the off day, Matheny had no problem asking his closer for six outs.
"If things lined up a certain way, we were going to pitch (Mujica) two innings," Matheny said, "and they did."
St. Louis roared to a 3-0 first-inning lead against Edwin Jackson. Matt Holliday and Jay sandwiched RBI singles around David Freese's sacrifice fly.
The Cubs (52-65) got a run back in the third when Holliday appeared to lose Junior Lake's fly ball in the sun and missed it for a two-base error that scored DeJesus.
Freese's bases-loaded groundout to third in the bottom of the inning plated Carpenter for a 4-1 lead.
Barney's infield single in the fourth drew Chicago within 4-2. The Cubs got even in the sixth when Starlin Castro and Barney stroked RBI singles off reliever Seth Maness.
"You're always hoping for a comeback when you're behind," Barney said. "It looked good, but they came through with some big hits later."
Big hits that allowed the Cardinals to enjoy their first off day since the calendar flipped into August.
"It's been a tough run for these guys," Matheny said. "These guys are tired, there's no question about it. They're looking forward to this stretch and playing real good baseball."
NOTES: St. Louis RF Carlos Beltran fouled a pitch off his right foot in the fifth, struck out and then left the game with what the team called a contusion. X-rays on his foot came back negative, and he's listed as day-to-day. ... Neither starting pitcher figured in the decision. Cardinals RHP Joe Kelly allowed four runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings, while Jackson gave up four runs in five innings. ... The Cardinals still haven't their announced their starting pitchers for the last two games of the Pittsburgh series. RHP Adam Wainwright will work the series opener against Pirates RHP Charlie Morton.