ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals took a pair of gambles Monday night, gambles that changed the landscape of the sixth inning and, eventually, the series opener against the Giants.
The sixth-inning risks, while substantial, were dwarfed by the reward -- a three-run frame that pushed the Cardinals toward an 8-2 win at Busch Stadium, where St. Louis has won 12 of the last 13 games played.
"We need to get wins," said Jon Jay, who orchestrated a career-best four-hit night. "That was a big inning for us."
The initial spark came from Matt Holliday, someone who manager Mike Matheny has recently lauded for playing with the same urgency he has publicly stated the third-place team needs to have.
A leadoff double against Matt Cain put Holliday on second, the score tied, 2-2. He had his eyes on third as Carlos Beltran lifted a ball to center, and Holliday took the chance.
His foot just beat the throw, putting Holliday in position to score the go-ahead run when David Freese followed with a deep fly ball.
"Matt's hustle made that play happen," Matheny said. "It doesn't happen if he's not anticipating and giving it all he's got."
That was only the start.
Two singles and a seven-pitch walk later, it was Matheny's turn to weigh his options, as the pitcher's spot was due up next. He endured minimal hesitation, even though Westbrook's pitch count sat at a modest 79 with a one-run lead.
Matheny wanted more.
As the inning unfolded, he told Matt Carpenter to go get ready. Carpenter did, while staying out of sight.
"I was underneath hiding," Carpenter said, "but at the same time ready to go."
His cue came when Westbrook returned from the on-deck circle. The Cardinals liked the matchup, too. Carpenter had only seen Cain once before, but he went 3-for-3 on that day in San Francisco.
This time, Carpenter delivered a two-run single.
"He couldn't have had a bigger role than what he had tonight," Matheny said. "He came up in a perfect situation for him to maximize what he brings to the table. It was a great at-bat and a very timely hit for us."
"We had a good pitch and he did a good job of getting a hit," added Cain.
Carpenter, while just 5-for-19 as a pinch-hitter, has driven in eight runs in the role.
"He's obviously one of the best pitchers in the game, and I've had some good at-bats against him. But they've all been tough," Carpenter said. "Tonight I was down in the count when I got the hit. He makes tough pitches, but fortunately I was able to put the barrel on it and get the job done."
From there, the lead ballooned in the seventh, which allowed the Cardinals to stay away from having to use Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte for a second straight night. Freese drove home one more with an infield single. Jay capped his four-hit night with a two-run hit.
The Cardinals, who finished with a dozen hits, took contributions from every spot in the lineup but the leadoff one. Five different players drove home a run; six players scored at least one. They also forced Cain to throw 114 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.
"I think everyone had great at-bats today," Jay said. "We moved the line, kept it going. That's what we have to do."
Westbrook would have pitched deeper had circumstances not been as they were. Still, his six-inning effort was rewarded with a win, moving Westbrook to 11-8 this year. He has won each of his last four starts and now sits just one victory away from matching his 2011 total.
He has gone at least six innings in his last 11 starts.
"I was locating a lot better than I did in Colorado," said Westbrook, who allowed five runs in that last outing. "The key for me is getting ahead and controlling counts, which I did a good job of today. It's good to get back on track in that sense."
The night started sour, as Angel Pagan stung Westbrook with a leadoff homer. There was other trouble, too, though none of it converted into runs. A double play aided Westbrook in the first. An inning later, Beltran ended the frame by squashing Brandon Belt's attempt to stretch a single into a two-base hit.
Westbrook also worked around back-to-back leadoff singles in the fourth to preserve what was then a one-run lead. A solo homer by Beltran and an RBI hit from Rafael Furcal had pushed two Cardinals runs home in the second.
"You never know when you start off the game like you did the leadoff hitter if he's going to be able to stay in there and find that sink." Matheny said. "But he did a great job."
Westbrook's only other mistake -- though he wouldn't characterize the pitch as such -- was allowing a game-tying homer to Buster Posey in top of the sixth.
"Jake threw the ball really good," Giants infielder Ryan Theriot said. "Good sinker, cutter, curveball. He stayed out of the middle of the plate. When he does that, he's tough."
The win was the Cardinals' fourth straight, something they've now done five different times this season. The club appears to be peaking, too.
St. Louis has emerged from 13 of its last 17 games with the victory and has shaved two games off its National League Central deficit in a two-day span.
"You want to get on a roll," Carpenter said. "We're right where we need to be from a health standpoint, and I like the way we're playing the game right now. If we can just keep this up, we're going to be happy with how we finish."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.