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Cards squeak past Fish for first home sweep

Beltran scores decisive run on heads-up play; solid Lynn wins 11th

ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Beltran, the elder statesman of the Cardinals' offense, hardly showed his age on Sunday.

If there were questions about how his knees are holding up, Beltran answered them through action. With a bunt hit, a steal of home and a potentially game-changing sliding catch, the 36-year-old Beltran helped preserve the Cards' 3-2 win over the Marlins.

"I think we did a lot of good things in this homestand," Beltran said. "Some days you've got to manufacture, and when you're capable of doing that, it feels great."

The All-Star outfielder certainly was the catalyst, though a supporting cast was also critical. Lance Lynn earned his 11th win while also erasing the bitterness of being picked on in Anaheim. Matt Holliday launched a solo homer, and setup man Trevor Rosenthal worked out of a self-made eighth-inning mess to set up Edward Mujica for his 23rd save.

"We've had some heartbreaks as of late, and to be able to get a sweep, any time of year, is great," Lynn said. "Right now, it would be nice to get hot right before the All-Star break and rattle off a bunch of wins."

On the heels of a 3-8 skid through Interleague Play, the Cardinals returned to Busch Stadium ready to pounce on the last-place Marlins -- the first of three sub-.500 clubs the Cardinals play to close out the season's first half. St. Louis responded with three wins by a combined five runs to earn its first three-game winning streak since May. A loss by the Pirates later Sunday also moved the Cardinals into a first-place tie.

Three sellout crowds, the last totaling 43,741, were on hand to enjoy the team's first sweep at Busch Stadium this year.

"We wanted this one bad, no question about it," manager Mike Matheny said. "We knew they had a good pitcher on the mound. He gave us a tough time in Miami and is obviously having a strong season."

After striking out 10 times in Jose Fernandez's six-inning start on June 14, the Cardinals took an aggressive approach early in their second look at the Marlins' lone All-Star. Three of the first four batters to face Fernandez swung at his first pitch. One of those -- Holliday -- ended his at-bat by trotting the bases.

Lynn gave the run back in the next frame, after which Beltran started piecing together his own personal highlight reel in the third. Fernandez's first pitch of the inning hit Matt Carpenter. As Beltran headed to bat next, he scanned the scene and made his decision. He wanted to bunt, not as a sacrifice, but as a way to get on base.

"I look at third base and I look at him playing way out there," Beltran said. "I tell myself, 'Let me just try to get a hit here.'"

Beltran reached safely, and after a walk to Holliday, Allen Craig pushed the go-ahead run home on a sacrifice fly. Beltran moved to third on the out.

That 90-foot advancement would be critical.

With the count 3-2 on the following hitter, David Freese, Matheny put Holliday in motion. Matheny's hope was to avoid having Freese ground into a potentially inning-ending double play.

Instead, Holliday nearly ran himself into one. Freese struck out swinging, and with a bad jump, Holliday would have easily been thrown out at second. So he stopped, and backpedaled, drawing second baseman Derek Dietrich toward him. As soon as Dietrich stopped pursuit and threw the ball to first baseman Logan Morrison, Beltran headed for home.

Beltran's slide beat the throw, giving the Cardinals a two-run lead.

"There are already two outs, so I've got to find the perfect moment to go home," Beltran said. "As soon as the ball was thrown to second base, like I said, in my mind, when that ball goes back to first base, that would be the time for me to go."

Beltran would be credited with a steal of home, the first of the Cardinals' season and the first for Beltran in, as he estimated, "a long time."

"We're not trying to steal bases," Matheny said, "as much as stay out of a double play."

Better executed, the Marlins would have had one.

"If [Dietrich] would have kept charging, it basically would have ended up being a footrace," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "And he would have probably ended up at least tagging [Holliday] before [Beltran] scored."

Lynn wouldn't lose the lead. Though he had only one 1-2-3 inning, a pair of double plays and seven strikeouts helped him minimize the damage in seven innings. He featured a larger-than-usual arsenal of pitches, too, complementing his four-seam fastball and changeup with a slider, cutter and sinker.

The cutter, Lynn explained, has evolved from the slider, as the direction and arm slot are the same. But at about 5 mph faster, it is growing into a separate weapon. So too is Lynn's sinker, a pitch that has been a work in progress for much of the year.

"I haven't had the feel for it in the strike zone that I would have liked," Lynn said. "Now, it's starting to be a very useful pitch."

Matheny also pointed to Lynn's answer to last week's laborious start as a reason behind Sunday's success. Ignoring the temptation to try and rework something for the sake of making a change, Lynn stuck to what helped him become the league's third 11-game winner.

"The adjustment is really not to make too many adjustments," Matheny said. "We could have absolutely gone and tried to make more of it than we needed to, and I think that would have gone in the wrong direction."

Rosenthal earned the hold by retiring two batters with the potential tying run at third in the eighth. Mujica, aided by Beltran's sliding catch to rob Jeff Mathis of a leadoff hit in the ninth, finished off the win with his third scoreless appearance of the series.

"It's pretty good when you have a defense behind you like that," Mujica said. "We're playing pretty good baseball. We're playing hard, and that's good."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Holliday, Trevor Rosenthal, Lance Lynn, Carlos Beltran