St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia walked four in his 5 2/3 innings, but when the left-hander missed, he missed down in the zone. So, while the free passes provided opportunities, the D-backs were not able to elevate the ball and take advantage.
"He kept the ball down, lots of changing speeds and he located well," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He kept us off balance. We were trying to get the ball up, but he kept it down. Just unable to get a big blow when we needed it with guys on."
Garcia did leave a fastball up to Miguel Montero in the second, and the D-backs catcher lined it the opposite way for a homer that gave Arizona a 1-0 lead.
D-backs starter Trevor Cahill followed up a strong spring by pounding the strike zone against the Cardinals. The right-hander threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 10 hitters he faced and held St. Louis to one run on three hits over his first five innings.
The game would turn in the sixth, though, thanks to a pair of decisive at-bats.
The first came with one out, a runner on first and Matt Holliday at the plate.
Cahill had Holliday down, 1-2, and threw a changeup that bounced in the dirt for a ball. Cahill tried another changeup, this one was nearly as low as the previous one, but Holliday somehow went down and hooked the ball on a line over the wall in left for a 3-1 St. Louis lead.
"It was a pretty good pitch," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He went down and golfed that ball. Typically, you're not going to get hurt when you're down in the zone like that, but Matt's got some exceptional ability. That was obviously the offensive turning point for us."
When he hit it, Holliday did not think it was going to leave the yard.
"I was just hoping he didn't catch it," Holliday said, referring to left fielder Alfredo Marte. "When I first hit it, I thought, 'Don't catch it. Don't catch it.' Then, 'Get over the fence.' Their starting pitching these first two days has been really tough, so for us to be able to kind of break through and get some runs, it was good."
It was the third homer for Holliday in nine career at-bats against Cahill.
"I thought it was a pretty good pitch," Cahill said. "I threw it where I wanted to throw it, and he's just really strong. Even if you get him off balance, he's strong enough to still hit it out. He's just probably the strongest guy I've seen. If it hits the barrel it's going to go out, no matter if he's on one foot or one toe or whatever. He's just kind of a freak athlete."
Garcia retired the first two Arizona hitters in the bottom of the sixth, but then walked the next three to load the bases.
It seemed like the D-backs might finally break through, as Matheny summoned right-hander Edward Mujica from the bullpen and Gibson countered by sending up the left-handed-hitting Jason Kubel to pinch-hit for A.J. Pollock.
Mujica started Kubel with four straight split-finger fastballs before missing with a fastball to run the count to 3-2.
Mujica threw another fastball that Kubel fouled off, and traditional thinking said a split would come next.
"I think everybody knows that I'm going to throw my split-finger changeup," Mujica said. "Everybody is just looking for that pitch."
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, though, called for a fastball instead, and the pitch froze Kubel, who took it for and inning-ending strikeout.
"I think he was looking for something slow, like maybe my changeup," Mujica said. "I surprised him with a fastball away."
Said Kubel, "He threw a lot of splits and then two fastballs the last two pitches and it was just tough, good location."
The Cardinals put the game on ice in with a three-run seventh inning that included a pair of home runs off reliever Heath Bell, who was making his D-backs debut.
"He didn't locate at all," Gibson said of Bell, who retired one of the six batters he faced. "He didn't execute his pitches very well tonight, and if you don't execute against this club, they are very good."