ST. LOUIS -- For eight innings, Adam Wainwright was in total command. The ninth was an adventure for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wainwright limited Oakland to an unearned run and left with a three-run lead, but Jason Motte had to rescue closer Ryan Franklin with a key strikeout that preserved a 4-3 victory over the Athletics.
Franklin started the ninth but left after Ryan Sweeney's RBI single got the A's within two. Motte struck out Kevin Kouzmanoff and got Mark Ellis to fly out before Gabe Gross singled in a run.
With runners on first and second, Adam Rosales swung and missed for strike three, giving Motte his second save in two opportunities.
"Nobody's perfect," Franklin said. "I just didn't have my stuff."
Matt Holliday homered and drove in three runs for the second straight day for St. Louis, which has won four of five and will go for a three-game sweep on Sunday. Skip Schumaker had two hits for a two-game total of five, and Albert Pujols drew his major league-leading 20th intentional walk in the fifth.
Wainwright (10-4) gave up five hits for his 22nd consecutive quality start at home, three more than any other pitcher in major league history. He is 7-0 with a 1.64 ERA this season at Busch Stadium, averaging nearly eight innings in seven starts. He lowered his overall ERA to 2.23.
"I've got a pretty good dose of adrenaline going the whole time, usually," Wainwright said. "It's very easy to play in front of this crowd."
Manager Tony La Russa had a quick hook for Franklin, who has 13 saves in 14 chances but uncharacteristically walked Conor Jackson on five pitches to start the ninth. Franklin has walked only four in 30 innings.
"I told him, 'You just don't look like yourself,"' La Russa said. "He just didn't look right."
Motte's first save came on a day off for Franklin in April.
"I really didn't think it was any different like 'Oh my God, I've got to do this or the game's over,"' Motte said. "If you do that, you're going to screw something up."
Holliday hit a tiebreaking RBI double off the base of the wall in left-center in the fifth and a two-run homer off Ben Sheets (2-7) in the seventh that made it 4-1. Holliday, who batted second for the fifth straight game, had endured a career-worst 43 at-bat RBI drought before homering and driving in three runs on Friday.
"I'm willing to bet whatever anybody wants to bet that by the time we get to the first of October you're going to see a lot more of the Matt that's been seven years showing what he can do than a guy that struggles," La Russa said. "He is big damage."
Sheets pitched seven innings, matching a season high, and allowed four runs and six hits, falling to 6-15 with a 4.09 ERA against St. Louis. He also dropped to 0-5 with a 6.95 ERA on the road, compared to 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA at home.
"In years past everybody has asked me about my record against them, and when you're on a team that loses 90 games and that team is winning 90 to 100 games, chances are you're going to lose a lot of games to them," Sheets said. "I've got numbers very similar to other teams that I might be 8-2 or 8-3 against."
Oakland is a season-low four games below .500 after losing four straight and seven of eight.
Wainwright gave up a leadoff double to Rajai Davis and hit Jackson with one out in the first. Catcher Yadier Molina sailed a throw into left field when Davis swiped third, allowing the speedster to take home.
The Athletics had one runner in scoring position the next seven innings.
"Up, down, left right, he was keeping us off balance," Davis said. "He was able to take advantage of over-aggressive batters."
Molina saved a hit in the seventh, pouncing on Mark Ellis' squibber and throwing him out by a step.
The game lasted a snappy two hours and 15 minutes, shortest of the season at home. The start was delayed 15 minutes so Sheets had enough time to warm up following a storm earlier in the day and just minutes after the grounds crew watered the infield. The tarp was removed about a half-hour before the scheduled game time and the field was dry.
Cardinals RHP Brad Penny (upper back) was pain-free a day after playing catch but the team has yet to schedule a bullpen session. ... Holliday's line drive homer to straightaway center Friday night broke a young female fan's nose.