ST. LOUIS -- A day after desperately and unsuccessfully searching for big hits with men on base, the Cardinals got one from a guy who hasn't been leaned on much previously this season.
Tony Cruz provided a go-ahead two-run triple in a 3-2 Cardinals win over the Marlins in 106-degree heat before 41,312 fans at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Cruz's hit helped erase a two-run Miami lead and provided support for St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse en route to his ninth win of the season.
"That's what really differentiates the good teams in my opinion -- being able to get those big hits with guys in scoring position," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Good to have more of them today, not even just hits, but situational hitting. The opportunities were there, but we got enough today and that's what matters."
The Cardinals had Allen Craig at second base and David Freese at first with no outs in fourth for the second time in the game. Neither scored in that same situation in the second inning, but the bottom of the order came through the second time around.
Skip Schumaker singled to left to score Craig, and a Cruz triple into the right-field corner plated a pair to put St. Louis ahead, 3-2. The triple off Miami starter Carlos Zambrano was the first of Cruz's career, and the backup catcher now has three RBIs in 24 games this season.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it and sent it down the line," Cruz said. "I just hit and run out there, trying to do what I can."
Cruz started for the second straight game in light of Yadier Molina having been placed on the bereavement list on Friday due to a death in the family. Despite Lohse having little game experience pitching to Cruz, the batterymates were on the same page all day.
Lohse gave up a two-run homer to Justin Ruggiano in the second inning, but was dominant otherwise. He gave up three hits -- all in the second inning -- over seven innings and didn't allow a runner past first base after the second.
"It was the same thing he's been doing. He was mixing everything up, making pitches when he has to," Matheny said. "I'd say as far as a pitch-maker goes, he's as good as anybody right now. Not trying to overwhelm people with stuff, as much as making pitches."
Said Ruggiano: "He's got four quality pitches and he commands them well. I think any time you have a guy with that many weapons, and not afraid to use them in any count, it's going to make him tough."
Lohse worked quickly and efficiently throwing 102 pitches -- 68 of them for strikes.
"We were getting off the field and they were staying out there a lot longer, and I think that's a key to win on hot days like this," Cruz said.
Lohse has gone at least seven innings in his last six starts, and has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice this season. He's thrown seven straight quality starts while posting a 1.56 ERA since June 1.
"I think I've really figured out what it takes for me to be successful, and that's going out and locating, not trying to overpowering anybody and using my defense," Lohse said. "You look at how I'm getting ahead of guys and pitching off that, that's kind of been the key to my first half."
Lohse said he trusted Cruz on Saturday just as he trusts Molina.
Cruz said he spends plenty of time with Molina going over video on opposing hitters, studying their tendencies. Cruz credits that extra work to his ability to seamlessly fill in when Molina is unavailable.
"That just shows you that Tony's doing a great job of paying attention, and he's got great instincts behind the plate," Matheny said. "Just an all around good job by a guy who hasn't had a lot of opportunities. When he's been in there, he's made the most of them."
Craig finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles to bring his average up to .308. He'd been below .300 for the first time this season for the past two days. Matt Holliday singled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Carlos Beltran was held hitless for just the seventh time since June 1.
Mitchell Boggs threw a scoreless eighth inning in relief, and Jason Motte got Donovan Solano to pop one up to Cruz behind the plate for his 20th save after allowing back-to-back two-out singles.
Many Cardinals players called Saturday's game the hottest they've ever played. St. Louis has now had four straight games with the temperature above 100 degrees at first pitch.
Getting off the field on Saturday was a relief not just to secure a hard-fought one-run, but to escape the heat.
"The last thing you want to do is go extras in that game," Schumaker said. "We got just enough, and we'll take it."
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.