ST. LOUIS -- Claudio Vargas' longest outing in four years produced a victory and put the Milwaukee Brewers' staff in good shape for a tough weekend.
Vargas worked eight innings and was backed by a 19-hit attack in a 12-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Brewers starters lasted five and 5 1/3 innings the previous two games.
"I feel really good because we've gota doubleheader tomorrow and they really needed the starter to go deep in the game," Vargas said. "And I did."
Corey Hart homered, doubled and singled, Kevin Mench matched his career high with four hits and Tony Graffanino had three RBI. The Brewers won for only the third time in their last 11 road games and took a three-game lead in the NL Central over the Cubs.
Milwaukee is 5-1 against the Cardinals this year, outscoring them 35-5 in the last four games, and rebounded nicely after dropping three of four at Cincinnati.
"When things go a little bit south, they find ways to bounce back and make good things happen," manager Ned Yost said. "That's the thing I enjoy so much about these young kids.
"They don't panic like some people, they stay steady in their approach, and keep plugging away."
Mike Maroth (0-4) surrendered seven runs and 11 hits and exited after facing one batter in the fifth for the Cardinals, who have dropped three of the first four in a crucial seven-game homestand against the top two teams in the NL Central.
Maroth has a 9.20 ERA in six starts with the starter-starved Cardinals, and in his last three has been particularly horrendous, allowing 23 earned runs and 31 hits in only 14 innings, although he'll stay in the rotation for now. Manager Tony La Russa said the coaches determined in the first inning that Maroth was tipping his pitches.
"I don't care what your location is, it makes it impossible to get guys out," La Russa said. "You can't just automatically fix it, but it will give him a better chance."
Vargas (9-2) won his third straight start, striking out eight and walking one. He allowed two runs and nine hits, striking out the side in the seventh.
The Brewers, who entered with an NL-worst .228 average since the All-Star break, batted around in a five-run third that featured a season-high seven hits. They battered Maroth before and after a 39-minute rain delay in the third, with four hits before the delay and three more when the inning resumed.
"I really don't know what to say," Maroth said. "Things haven't been going the way I would have liked them to."
Milwaukee batted around again two innings later, scoring four times.
Hart doubled and scored in the third, hit his 15th homer in the fourth and had an RBI single in the fifth; J.J. Hardy had RBI singles in the third and fifth; Bill Hall was 3-for-4 with a two-run single in the third; and Tony Graffanino drove in two runs with a bloop single in the third and a bases loaded hit by pitch in the fifth.
"I was really pleased with our approaches," Yost said. "I just wanted to remind them they're the same team that's (19) games over .500 at home. It's the same team."
Gary Bennett had two hits and a sacrifice fly and drove in both runs for St. Louis. The Cardinals allowed double-digit scoring for the fifth time in the last 14 games and 13th time overall.
With the game out of hand, La Russa moved second baseman Adam Kennedy to shortstop for the first time in his career in the eighth. He also gave outfielder So Taguchi his third-ever stint at second base, and Taguchi botched a relay on a potential double play ball for an error in the ninth.
In the fifth inning the Brewers announced they had acquired RHP Seth McClung from Tampa Bay in exchange for RHP Grant Balfour, who was designated for assignment earlier Friday. McClung will be optioned to Triple-A Nashville. ... Johnny Estrada is 4-for-5 against Maroth after getting two hits and an RBI, Hall is 3-for-4 and Hart is 4-for-6. ... Vargas is 2-4 with a 6.87 ERA against the Cardinals. ... Vargas has two previous eight-inning stints, the last on June 23, 2003 with the Expos. His previous long this year was six innings.