ST. LOUIS -- Every out was an uphill climb for Chris Carpenter. Until hitting the go-ahead homer, Ryan Ludwick felt the same way at the plate.
Ludwick's drive snapped an eighth-inning tie after he lined out twice earlier, rewarding a resourceful performance by Carpenter in the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-2 victory over the skidding Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
"It's not what you do when you have your best stuff, it's what you do when you don't," Carpenter said after working eight innings in consecutive starts. "My stuff wasn't fabulous and I was able to win."
Felipe Lopez added a two-run homer in his second game back from an elbow injury. The Cardinals have won two straight since moving Albert Pujols to the cleanup spot, although they managed only six hits off three Washington pitchers.
Ludwick hit his sixth homer on a 1-1 cutter from Tyler Clippard (7-3), one pitch after the reliever picked off pinch-runner Brendan Ryan at first. Ludwick is batting .386 at home with three homers and eight RBI.
"The first two balls I hit as hard as I could, just right at guys," Ludwick said. "I guess that's the one way you can make sure you get a hit, hit it where they can't catch it."
Clippard called the home run pitch a "nice little cement mixer." He didn't think the pickoff affected his attitude.
"I wouldn't say I got lax or anything. I just threw a bad pitch," Clippard said. "Bottom line, it happens."
Clippard also had a career-high three walks and got the decision for the seventh straight outing, dropping to 4-3 in those appearances. In 7 2-3 innings during that stretch, he's allowed six runs and 10 hits.
Ryan Franklin worked the ninth for his ninth save in 10 chances.
Wil Nieves hit his first homer since Aug. 14 and Cristian Guzman had three singles for the Nationals, who have lost a season-worst five in a row. Ryan Zimmerman was 1 for 8 in the series with a single.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese helped prevent a run in the fourth when he started a double play on Josh Willingham's sharp grounder with runners on first and third and none out, taking time to keep Guzman planted at third before making his throw.
"Guzzy's really kicking himself for that," Washington manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's got to go on that ball."
Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker committed two errors for the second straight game, both fielding, in the eighth and ninth.
"Thank God it was a win, because I don't know if I'd have been able to drive home," Schumaker said.
Carpenter (5-1) had only one perfect inning and allowed his seventh homer in nine starts, matching his total from last season. But he walked none for the third time. He has flashed a temper in recent starts and slammed his glove at the back of the dugout wall after giving up Ian Desmond's tying RBI single with two outs in the eighth.
"I think runners were on all night long, weren't they?" Carpenter said. "Those guys put some nice at-bats on against me."
The Nationals had two runners in scoring position with one out in the seventh and came up empty, and had a pair of two-hit innings against Carpenter. The right-hander is 6-1 against the Nationals after beating them for the first time since Aug. 5, 2004, when the franchise was in Montreal. He's 4-1 with a 1.75 ERA at home.
Lopez had been 0 for 5 with three infield groundouts and a strikeout batting leadoff since coming off the 15-day disabled list before hitting a two-run homer on a full count to put the Cardinals ahead 2-1 in the fifth. Both of his homers have come in starts by Carpenter, the other a grand slam April 16 against the Mets.
The Cardinals have won eight in a row at home against the Nationals and are 13-2 against them overall the last three seasons.
Schumaker, dropped from leadoff to eighth, singled and scored on Lopez's homer and is 9 for 29 during an eight-game hitting streak. ... The Nationals have scored 10 runs during their losing streak. ... Carpenter threw 118 pitches, his most since he had 122 against the Padres on Sept. 26, 2006. Seven of the homers against him have been with none on. ... The Cardinals have 37 homers this year, 15 in Carpenter's starts.