LOS ANGELES -- Although Allen Craig's bouncing single didn't look like much, it was just what Lance Lynn and the St. Louis Cardinals needed to get back on track in the wild-card race.
Craig drove in Shane Robinson with the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, and the Cardinals extended their NL wild-card lead over Los Angeles to two games with a 2-1 victory over the struggling Dodgers on Thursday night.
Lynn (15-7) pitched six innings of five-hit ball to earn his first win since July 27 for the Cardinals, striking out seven in the All-Star's stellar return to the rotation after a bullpen demotion. Yet he wasn't rewarded for his effort until Craig's single eluded two Dodgers and squeaked into right field.
"It's definitely a dogfight," said Craig, a Southern California native. "To be part of a close game with a lot of energy and to come out on top is great for our team. ... I thought it had a good chance to get through. I didn't know if I hit it hard enough, but I did."
Skip Schumaker had an early run-scoring single as St. Louis (76-68) snapped its three-game skid and a four-game road losing streak with a nail-biting win over the Dodgers (74-70), who have lost four straight. With Lynn in charge on the mound, the defending World Series champion Cardinals eked out just enough runs to earn their fourth win in 16 games in the opener of a key four-game series.
After getting banished to the bullpen last month, Lynn made the most of his chance to take the turn of injured Jake Westbrook. Lynn won his first six starts this season and was voted to the All-Star game by the players, but plummeted out of favour and made six relief appearances since his previous start Aug. 24.
"That's one of the best starts he's had this season," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It just says volumes about his makeup and his stuff. It was a tough transition to the bullpen, and some guys handle it better than others. ... He showed he learned some things and couldn't wait to go out there and still prove he was ready to start."
Both teams stumbled into Dodger Stadium hardly resembling the top two contenders to face Atlanta in the NL wild card playoff game. St. Louis and Los Angeles had lost three straight and six of seven, allowing Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and even Arizona to creep into striking distance in the wild-card race.
"You definitely want to get off to a great start against a team we're playing for a wild-card berth," Lynn said.
Adrian Gonzalez had an RBI double in the Dodgers' seventh loss in eight games, putting a gloom over Dodger Stadium while the Cardinals wrapped it up.
Jason Motte gave up Hanley Ramirez's two-out double in the ninth, but got Shane Victorino on a soft flyball to complete his 34th save.
"The pitchers are doing their job, but we're not scoring runs," said Matt Kemp, who went 1 for 4. "One run is not going to win games in series like this, so we've got to find a way to get the job done. I can't really explain what's going on. You just take one good at-bat at a time and see where it takes you."
Josh Beckett gave up seven hits and a run while pitching into the sixth inning of his fourth start for Los Angeles, while rookie Paco Rodriguez (0-1) and Ronald Belisario allowed the seventh-inning rally capped by Craig's RBI single.
"We've got to stop worrying about what everybody else is doing and go out and win games ourselves," Beckett said. "That's a good ballclub over there, but we've got to figure out some way to win this series. They're the ones that we're chasing."
Beckett struck out six and had decent numbers despite labouring through long stretches of his second home start since the trade. He also didn't endear himself to Dodgers fans by putting a line drive into right field in the third inning and then getting thrown out at first by Carlos Beltran when he didn't hustle to the base.
After rescuing Beckett from a sixth-inning jam, Rodriguez walked Robinson and allowed Matt Carpenter's one-out single in the seventh. Belisario got Matt Holliday on a fly to centre, but Craig delivered.
NOTES: Jose Canseco watched the game from a field box wearing a black T-shirt reading: "Sorry For Everything Mark," an apparent reference to Mark McGwire, his former Oakland Athletics teammate and the Cardinals' hitting coach. ... Craig was born in Mission Viejo and graduated from high school in Temecula. ... Rodriguez began this year at the University of Florida, where he made the All-SEC first team. The Dodgers' second-round pick was the first member of the 2012 draft class to make the majors when he debuted in San Francisco last Sunday. ... Beckett hadn't pitched against the Cardinals since 2005. ... Entering the night, Lynn led the NL with 6.60 runs of support per game. ... IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves threw out the first pitch. IndyCar finishes its season this weekend in Fontana.