MILWAUKEE -- Joel Pineiro trusts his sinking fastball again, and that's making all the difference this season.
A year after injuries left him shaken with an ugly ERA, the veteran right-hander scattered three hits in his third complete game this year and the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to a 5-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
Pineiro (7-9) benefited from three double plays and faced just one batter over the minimum. He struck out five without a walk on 100 pitches.
"Some of the guys [joked] it took me seven years to learn the sinker," said Pineiro, who went 7-7 with a 5.15 ERA last season. "I told myself I want to make them earn their way on base, throw strikes."
Ryan Ludwick hit a three-run homer to cap a five-run eighth inning after Albert Pujols doubled in the go-ahead run and St. Louis won two of three against Milwaukee to increase its lead in the NL Central to two heading into a four-game, three-day series against the Chicago Cubs starting Friday.
"It's huge, it's going to be huge now that I went a complete game because the bullpen's well rested," Pineiro said. "It's going to be fun in Chicago."
The whole 10-game trip has been loads of fun so far. St. Louis also took two of three at Cincinnati.
"For us, we knew it was a big road trip and to be able to get off to a start of 4-2 and winning both series at each stop, it's extremely important for us," Ludwick said.
A day after blowing a 4-1 lead, the Cardinals rallied once Brewers starter Manny Parra departed.
Parra, in his first start since being demoted June 13, was sharp, yielding three hits and a walk and departing after seven innings with a 1-0 lead before the Brewers bullpen faltered.
The left-hander struck out seven and worked around five baserunners.
"It's a different look for Manny," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "He worked fast, exuded confidence and located his fastball."
Macha said Parra looked like a "whipped puppy" when they demoted him. Parra said that made him sound like a kid and he didn't like that description, but acknowledged he was struggling and glad to get back.
"I was ready," Parra said. "Nerves weren't an issue at all. It was more of an anxiousness to show that I was confident and had worked on some things."
Macha said Parra's effort makes the Brewers hopeful for the stretch run.
"If that's what we're going to be looking at in the second half, it'll be a welcome sight," Macha said. "He came back and held his head high and had his chest pumped out."
But Parra's effort was squandered when the first six Cardinals hitters in the eighth reached.
Reliever Carlos Villanueva surrendered a single to pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker and a triple to Brendan Ryan that tied the game. Villanueva (2-5) left for Mitch Stetter, who walked pinch-hitter Jason LaRue.
Stetter was yanked for Todd Coffey and Pujols doubled in the go-ahead run. Ludwick followed with his 13th homer this season to the Brewers bullpen in left-center field. Pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel singled next, but was caught stealing.
Pineiro had been 1-4 in his last six starts despite not allowing more than three runs in any of them. Heading into the eighth, it looked like it would be more of the same even as his ERA fell from 3.39 to 3.20.
"He's pitched so much better than his record, it's great to see him get a win like this," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Pujols, who had been 1 of 10 in this series and 5 of 27 this year against the Brewers until the eighth, came through in the clutch and Ludwick's shot gave Pineiro plenty of cushion to finish it.
"That was huge," Pineiro said. "I wouldn't say that relaxed me, but it just gave me more motivation to go out there ... and do my job."
- The Brewers didn't leave a man on base for the ninth time in team history and last since June 17, 2008, against Toronto.
- It was Pineiro's 12th complete game of his 10-year career.
- Pineiro also went 2 for 4 from the plate.
- Brewers 3B Bill Hall (family death) missed the game. He's expected back on Friday.
- Brewers RF Corey Hart missed his second consecutive game after fouling a ball off his lower left leg on Tuesday night.