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Back on a roll- Benes leads Cards to fifth win in a row
PITTSBURGH -- St. Louis manager Tony La Russa doesn't understate the value of pitcher Andy Benes to the Cardinals.
"We wouldn't be in first place without him," La Russa said after Benes led the Cardinals to a 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night for their fifth consecutive victory.
The Cardinals have needed pitching help since the death of Darryl Kile and injuries to Woody Williams and Garrett Stephenson. Benes has helped fill the void.
"He did a heck of a job tonight," La Russa said. "He's giving the hitters a lot of things to look at. He's working both sides of the plate, up and down. He's pitching."
Benes wondered if he'd be pitching for the Cardinals, or for anyone in the major leagues this season. In April he went on the disabled list with an arthritic knee.
He spent time with Triple-A Memphis on an injury rehabilitation assignment, which sharpened his mental approach as well as helping him physically.
"I kind of re-established that I can do this," Benes said. "I really got my focus."
Benes has also added a split-finger fastball in the last few weeks.
"It's been a good weapon for me," he said. "It puts in the hitters' mind that I have something other than a fastball and a slider."
Edgar Renteria homered and drove in three runs.
Albert Pujols hit his 27th home run for the Cardinals, who had 11 hits -- their third straight game in double figures. St. Louis maintained its three-game lead over Houston in the NL Central.
"They have an awful lot of good hitters in that lineup," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "You make mistakes and they make you pay. We've left a lot of balls out over the plate."
Benes (2-3) continued to pitch effectively since his return from the disabled list. He left after walking Rob Mackowiak to open the seventh, and reliever Mike Crudale immediately gave up a home run to Craig Wilson.
Benes held Pittsburgh to two runs, two hits and three walks to improve to 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his last four starts. Steve Kline and Jason Isringhausen finished the four-hitter.
The Pirates (52-68) have lost five straight to fall a season-worst 16 games under .500.
Renteria hit a two-run homer, his eighth, in the second off Kip Wells (11-10). It followed Tino Martinez's single.
St. Louis added a run in the second when Mike Matheny singled, moved up on Benes' sacrifice bunt and scored on J.D. Drew's two-out single.
The Cardinals scored twice more in the third. Wells hit Scott Rolen with a pitch and walked Martinez. Renteria had an RBI single, and Matheny hit a sacrifice fly for a 5-0 lead.
St. Louis got an unearned run in the sixth. Fernando Vina singled, stole second and went to third on catcher Jason Kendall's throwing error. He scored on Wells' wild pitch.
Pujols went deep off Scott Sauerbeck in the ninth.
Wilson's homer was his 10th.
Benes walked two batters to start the second and Kendall hit an RBI single for his 999th career hit.
Wells has lost four of his last five decisions and is 3-8 over his last 14 starts.
Renteria was 2-for-4 and is 10-for-17 in the last four games. ... The Cardinals are 12-4 at PNC Park over two seasons. ... Martinez has an eight-game hitting streak and 12 hits in his last 31 at-bats. ... McClendon was ejected by plate umpire Tim Tschida for disputing a called third strike on Brian Giles in the sixth. It was McClendon's fourth ejection this season. ... Opposing teams have hit 16 home runs in the last eight games at PNC Park. ... The Pirates are 1-7 in the last eight games. The only win came in San Francisco on Aug. 9, when Wells gave up Barry Bonds' 600th career home run.