ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' return to Busch Stadium a week ago came with a limp, the team having just lost a pair of series on the road, again unable to find sustained positive traction. There was healing in the homecoming, however, as the Cardinals first stalled a hot Padres team to open a seven-game home stay and then closed it by knocking a struggling Reds club further down.
The Cardinals ran Cincinnati's losing streak to five games by sweeping the three-game series, winning the first two in their final at-bat before finally cruising to a win on Wednesday night. The 7-3 victory, behind seven shutout innings from Lance Lynn in front of 43,085 at Busch Stadium, pulled the Cardinals to within 1 1/2 games of the National League Central-leading Brewers and up to a season-best 12 games above .500.
The offense scored four or more runs in every game on the homestand, while the starters went at least six innings deep in all but one. It can be argued that this club hasn't had a better stretch all year.
"All the wins are big right now," said Jon Jay, who went 11-for-19 over the past week. "We've seen the last few years that everything comes down to the wire. We know how important every win is."
Lynn had no trouble rolling through Cincinnati's lineup as he outdueled NL Cy Young candidate Johnny Cueto. Lynn limited the Reds to four singles and allowed only one baserunner to reach as far as second. The Reds never put two runners on base together. The only thing to truly stall Lynn was a late-game thunderstorm, which delayed the game 58 minutes before the top of the eighth and cost Lynn an opportunity to return.
Lynn finished with a pitch count of 94 in what was his seventh start of at least seven innings this season.
"Not much was made about that before the game, but I know that a couple of us talked about it, that this could be interesting to watch how Lance bows his neck right here," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think that guys who are on the rise -- and Lance is one of those pitchers -- you get an opportunity to go head to head with a guy who is among the league leaders in a lot of categories, it's a great opportunity to show what you can do. He took advantage of it."
Added Lynn: "It didn't hurt my feelings one bit beating him. You see all the leaderboards and his name up at the top. I outpitched him tonight."
While Cueto saw his ERA swell from 2.06 to 2.24 with his shortest start of the season, five-plus innings, Lynn continued to assert himself as worthy of being among those starters described as elite.
He's one of five NL pitchers to reach 14 wins and ranks among the league's top 10 in ERA. Lynn has a 1.84 ERA since the All-Star break, a contrast to his second-half stumble of years' past.
He has now beaten the Reds three times this season.
"He was good, and it was primarily fastballs, well located," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Lynn. "When he needed to make a pitch, he could do it with his fastball down and away, up and in."
Jhonny Peralta, who delivered a walk-off hit in the series opener, provided the cushion for Lynn. Peralta capped a two-out rally against Cueto with a bases-clearing double to put the Cardinals ahead, 4-0, in the fifth.
Jay, who had already extended his hitting streak to 12, started the two-out life with an infield single. Matt Holliday took a pitch off his forearm and Matt Adams drew a walk to load the bases for Peralta, who connected for his 50th extra-base hit of the season.
"We're playing good baseball right now," Peralta said, "and I think we're excited to go to the field and play the game."
Though the Cardinals entered the night ranked 29th in Majors in runs scored, they continue to pace the NL in runs scored with two outs. Of the team's 481 runs scored this season, 207 (43 percent) have come with two out.
The Cardinals added to their lead with a fifth run off Cueto to chase him in the sixth and added two off a weary bullpen in the eighth. Those proved important when Carlos Martinez slipped in the ninth.
With the delay too long for Lynn to return, Matheny turned to Randy Choate and Carlos Martinez to seal the team's seventh win in eight games. Choate retired two, but Martinez fell into trouble with a seven-run lead in the ninth. The Reds peppered him for three runs on four singles. The defense complicated things further with two errors.
That forced closer Trevor Rosenthal into action with two on and one out, the last thing the Cardinals wanted as they were trying to find him some rest. Rosenthal walked one to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but retired Todd Frazier for his 37th save.
"Any positive at this point," Matheny said, "is good for Trevor to build on to get him back to the form and the confidence level that he's been at this season."
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.