CHICAGO -- Chris Carpenter is baseball's best pitcher, at least according to his manager.
Carpenter pitched another impressive complete game to become the first 17-game winner in the major leagues, and Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer Saturday in the St. Louis Cardinals' 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Carpenter (17-4) threw an eight-hitter for his major league-leading sixth complete game, striking out eight and walking none to lower his ERA to 2.25. The only blemish came in the third inning when he gave up a two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez.
"He pitched nine innings against a tough offensive club -- that's dominating," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He had a 2-0 pitch to a terrific hitter and he hit the ball out of the state. But that's the last run they got. That's outstanding pitching. No disrespect to anybody in either league who's doing great, but there's nobody greater than Chris. He's clutch."
Carpenter gave up six hits in the first three innings, but quickly settled down to win his ninth straight decision. He retired 13 of 14 hitters between the third and seventh.
"I just try to continue to go out and give my team a chance to win," Carpenter said. "With the defense and offense we have playing behind me, you're going to win a lot of ballgames."
Cubs manager Dusty Baker thought his team had some chances early against Carpenter.
"The guy can pitch, but we had an opportunity to beat him today, just like we had an opportunity to beat him in St. Louis and he gets off the hook," Baker said. "He wasn't sharp early, he hung some breaking balls we hit hard, but we didn't find any holes."
The Cubs have lost nine of 11.
The game started after a 2-hour, 42-minute rain delay, and the Cardinals got their first run in the second inning. With runners on first and second with two outs, Mike Mahoney broke an 0-for-20 slump with an RBI single, scoring John Mabry from second.
In the third inning, Cubs starter Jerome Williams (3-6) walked leadoff hitter David Eckstein. One out later, Pujols hit a 2-1 pitch into the seats in right field. It was his 33rd homer of the season, giving St. Louis a 3-0 lead.
Leading 3-2 in the seventh, the Cardinals padded their lead on two aggressive hit and run calls. Cubs reliever Scott Williamson walked Carpenter to start the inning. With the pitcher running on the next pitch, Eckstein singled to right, moving Carpenter to third.
John Rodriguez followed with an RBI single to right. Eckstein, who was running on the pitch, went to third. With one out and the bases loaded, Abraham Nunez hit a bouncer to Ramirez at third base. Ramirez fielded the ball and touched third for the force, but threw wildly to Derrek Lee at first. The ball got by Lee, allowing Eckstein to score and giving the Cardinals a 5-2 lead.
Eckstein likes playing for La Russa because of his aggressive style.
"That's something Tony does a lot. I knew something was going to happen. We weren't going to sit still. We were going to put things in motion. I enjoy it," Eckstein said.
Matt Lawton led off with a single in the Cubs' third. With two outs, Carpenter gave up Ramirez's 29th homer. The ball landed on Waveland Avenue and cut the Cardinals' lead to 3-2.
Carpenter got some help in the sixth inning when Rodriguez jumped into the ivy in left and brought down Michael Barrett's drive.
Williams pitched six innings, allowing three runs and four hits. He struck out a season-high seven and walked four.
- Chicago OF Jeromy Burnitz broke an 0-for-12 skid and a 3-for-36 slump with three hits.
- Corey Patterson robbed Pujols of extra bases in the fifth with a sliding catch in center.
- Carpenter's last loss came against Boston on June 8.