ST. LOUIS -- Michael Wacha did not need the scoreboard to remind him that through eight starts he had no batting average. He was routinely reminded of the zeros by his fellow starters, the razzing becoming particularly frequent once he became the lone member of the rotation to still not have a hit.
He may be stuck with the label as being last, but after Thursday's 5-3 win over the Cubs, Wacha could at least claim to being timely.
His run support lacking in recent weeks, the 22-year-old starter seized his own opportunity to ensure that the Cardinals wouldn't lose for a sixth straight time behind him. His two-out, two-run single extended what would become a four-run second and helped lift the Cardinals back above .500 with the series win in front of 42,501 fans at Busch Stadium.
"[Adam] Wainwright makes it look so easy," Wacha joked of the team's 8-for-21 staff ace. "I haven't heard the end of it. Hopefully now [I have]."
Wacha entered his ninth start of the season without a win since April 13, despite allowing just 11 runs in that five-start span. The problem wasn't so much him as it was a lack of offensive backing. The Cardinals had scored 10 during that stretch.
But the club contributed half that many on Thursday, rewarding Wacha for another quality start (his seventh this season) and helping him even his record at 3-3. Wacha, whose start was pushed back a day because of Wednesday's rainout, limited Chicago to two runs in seven innings, matching his longest start of the year. He did not walk a batter and struck out five.
"It's going to let him appreciate those times when he's maybe not his sharpest and he's still able to scratch out some wins," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's pitched good enough to get quite a few wins. It will come back to him. He's just got to stay the course."
"I look at my outings not really in the win-loss category," Wacha added. "Definitely you want to see more wins, because that means your team is winning. But it's kind of on you and how you feel you pitched that day."
By the time Starlin Castro tagged Wacha for a two-run, fourth-inning homer, the Cardinals had already constructed a four-run lead. The Cards' noise against Cubs starter Jason Hammel was limited, but nevertheless maximized because it came in succession.
Yadier Molina's one-out double in the second was the Cardinals' first hit. Consecutive walks to Allen Craig and Peter Bourjos followed, and the Cardinals scored the game's first run on a productive groundout by Mark Ellis.
Wacha, 0-for-14 to start the season, took a 3-2 pitch up the middle to score Craig and Bourjos.
"I got behind him with two wild ones," Hammel said. "You've got to attack. I was aggressive, but I wasn't quality aggressive today, and that's where I have to make my adjustments."
It was a bit of payback, too, as it was Hammel who, in a start against the Cardinals earlier this month, delivered a two-out, two-run single.
Wacha then hustled around the bases to score on Matt Carpenter's double to right field.
"We did a good job of making him work his pitch count up," Carpenter said. "We were able to get the big knock, and that's been the big difference, really, with the season so far, getting guys on and being able to get them in. We were able to do that today."
The Cardinals' only other hits off Hammel, whose previous seven starts had all been quality ones, came in the sixth. Matt Holliday led off the inning by legging out a double, and Molina knocked Hammel out of the game by driving in the insurance run with a one-out single.
That extra run provided a needed cushion for the bullpen, which allowed the game to get interesting late. Kevin Siegrist loaded the bases with a single and two walks in the eighth. Wanting to give setup reliever Carlos Martinez a day off, Matheny instead turned to Trevor Rosenthal for the five-out save, the first of his career. Rosenthal had blown his first save of the season two days earlier.
"This gives Trevor an opportunity to come in and maybe get some of it out in the eighth and come sharp in the ninth," Matheny said. "But I tell you, he was good right from the top in the eighth -- one of the best we've seen him as far as how he made his first few pitches."
Rosenthal allowed one of the inherited runners to score on a flyout and reloaded the bases with a two-out walk. But he rebounded to end the inning with no further damage.
The ninth was uneventful as Rosenthal worked ahead of and retired all three batters he faced to collect his 11th save.
"I felt good," Rosenthal said. "I've seen this team a few times now the last few weeks. [I'm] just working with Yadi and trying to keep a good approach against them."
There was a bit of extracurricular activity between Rosenthal's two innings of work, as both dugouts were warned after Molina started barking at the Cubs' dugout after a pitch sailed near his head. It was the third such time he had been brushed back by a high-and-inside pitch in the game.
Molina drew a walk to reach base for the third time.
"You get one mistake that sails and flies up by your head, you're not happy about it," Matheny said. "But when you see a number of them happen that way, you start to take it pretty personal, and I don't blame him."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.