ST. LOUIS -- Two days after Jason Isringhausen left to merciless boos from the home crowd, he walked off the mound in triumph.
Shaking off recent woes that left him wondering for a time whether to ditch his favored cut fastball, the St. Louis Cardinals' closer needed only 12 pitches to retire the top of the Chicago Cubs' order, putting the finishing touch on a 5-3 victory on Sunday night.
"I got to face some of the guys that got me that night," Isringhausen said. "I told myself I was just going to start the season over. All I did was try to go out there and just let it all loose and just pound the strike zone."
Albert Pujols reached base for the 32nd consecutive game, one shy of his personal best to start the year, and did it with a key two-run double in the fourth inning that was the go-ahead hit.
Todd Wellemeyer (3-1) beat the team that drafted him in 2000 and gave him his first shot in the major leagues with five solid innings, helping the Cardinals take two of three from their Central Division rival. All three games were sold out, the first capacity crowds since opening day, and the Cardinals finished 7-3 on a season-long 10-game homestand.
They begin an eight-game trip with a 1½ game division lead over Chicago, which had prevailed in four straight head-to-head series.
"There's a lot of tough teams in this division and I just want us to be one of them," manager Tony La Russa said. "We're playing tough and it makes for exciting baseball. We had a lot of clutch performances."
Adam Kennedy had a pair of RBI singles and walked twice and catcher Yadier Molina received a huge ovation in the fifth when he threw out Ryan Theriot attempting to steal second from his knees, ending up prone in front of the plate.
Isringhausen allowed runs in five of his previous eight appearances, going 0-1 with three blown saves, including Alfonso Soriano's game-tying two-run, ninth-inning homer in a 5-3, 11-inning victory on Friday. Soriano bounced out to third for the first out of the ninth. Cardinals fans were subdued until Isringhausen retired the first two, and then began to chant "Let's go Cardinals!" before Isringhausen struck out Derrek Lee for the final out and his 10th save in 13 chances.
"A game like this tells you all you need to know about Izzy," La Russa said. "That's why he's a closer. He's a very, very tough guy."
The Cardinals beat up on former teammate Jason Marquis (1-2), who surrendered five runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. Marquis was 3-1 last season against St. Louis, where he was a starter for three years before signing with the Cubs.
"I fell behind in the count too many times," Marquis said. "And I let the one guy in the lineup beat me that I shouldn't have."
Pujols struck out on an awkward swing and grounded into a double play in his first two at-bats before his two-out double just inside the third-base line to snap a 2-2 tie in the fourth. He drew his major league-high 33rd walk in the sixth, and entered the game with a major league-best .518 on-base percentage and nine intentional walks.
Wellemeyer allowed two runs on three hits in five innings in his second career appearance and first start against Chicago, and singled and scored in the second. A career reliever before last year when the Cardinals acquired him off waivers from the Royals, Wellemeyer is 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 18 career outings at Busch Stadium, including 11 starts.
Lee saved Marquis in the first with a diving grab of Chris Duncan's two-out, bases-loaded liner to first. But he popped up to shallow right with the bases loaded and none out in the seventh against Kyle McClellan, an inning in which the Cubs were held to a run on Kosuke Fukudome's sacrifice fly.
The Cubs average a major league-best six runs, but scored three or fewer for the 14th time, pulled down by 3-for-20 numbers with runners in scoring position.
"Offensively, we either have the nice big explosion or we seem to score three runs a lot, and we're not winning these 3-2, 3-1 ballgames," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've just got to keep working, that's all."
The Cubs took the lead in the second on Reed Johnson's RBI double and Soriano's sacrifice fly and the Cardinals promptly tied in the bottom half with four straight out-one hits including RBI singles by Skip Schumaker and Kennedy, a rally begun by Wellemeyer's single from the eighth spot. Ninth-place hitter Cesar Izturis singled with one out for his second hit and Adam Kennedy walked with two outs ahead of Pujols' smash just inside the third-base line to make it 4-2.
Kennedy's RBI single off Sean Marshall made it 5-2 in the sixth.
The Cardinals have played a major-league high 21 home games, two more than any other team. ... The Cubs' first three hits were doubles, giving them 10 extra-base hits in a stretch of 12 hits, before Soriano singled in the seventh. All but one of the hits were doubles. ... Kennedy is 4-for-6 with three walks, two RBI and three runs scored in two games batting second. ... Marquis is 9-4 at home and 4-7 on the road since joining the Cubs. ... The run against McClellan ended the rookie's streak of 13 1/3 scoreless innings.