CHICAGO -- Chris Duncan is back and better than ever -- at the plate, anyway.
Despite some adventuresome fielding, the St. Louis Cardinals are happy to have Duncan back in the lineup every day.
"When he's healthy, he's clutch," manager Tony La Russa said Thursday after Duncan atoned for some adventurous fielding with a home run, two singles and three RBIs in the Cardinals' 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
In winning for the seventh time in eight games, St. Louis struck first in a 16-game season series against its longtime rival. The Cubs' frustration showed when Milton Bradley was ejected for arguing a called strike in the sixth inning.
St. Louis, which leads the league in scoring, battered five Chicago pitchers. Duncan, back after missing the second half of last season with a degenerative disk in his neck, is batting .389 with 10 RBIs.
"His toughness is off the charts," La Russa said. "You see it the way he plays, the way he runs the bases, the way he defends, the way he takes at-bats. He's never going to give in."
Duncan's two-run homer gave St. Louis a 3-1 lead and he followed Yadier Molina's go-ahead single in the seventh with a hit of his own to make it 6-4.
Things didn't go as smoothly for Duncan in left field. He failed to catch a popup that led to the Cubs' first-inning run off of Adam Wainwright and he dropped a routine fly to get Wainwright in trouble in the sixth.
Wainwright responded to the bases-loaded, one-out situation by striking out Bradley and getting Alfonso Soriano to fly out.
"After I dropped that ball and he was able to get out of that jam, that just set the tone," Duncan said. "I think I broke back and then tried to make up for it and started running hard. I went at it and didn't slow down, so it kind of bounced off me. I just flat-out missed it."
Said La Russa: "I liked the fact that (Wainwright) picked up Chris on that play. Chris would have been walking the streets tonight if that leads to the inning that beats us."
Instead, Bradley ended up being the angry one.
Ever combative and combustible, the Cubs' newest $30 million acquisition got in umpire Larry Vanover's face after the strike-three call. Bradley had been on his best behavior since joining the team and had downplayed his reputation as a hothead.
He left the clubhouse before the media was allowed to enter and was unavailable for comment. When asked about Bradley's reaction to Vanover's call, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said only: "What do you want me to say?"
Though television replays made it appear Wainwright (2-0) received a generous call, he said the pitch "was too close to take."
Making his first start of the year for the Cubs, Sean Marshall left after five innings with a 4-3 lead. The bullpen then imploded, as has been the case often this season, wasting Kosuke Fukudome's three-run homer.
Aaron Heilman served up Kahlil Greene's tying homer in the sixth, David Patton (0-1) walked pinch-hitter Joe Thurston to lead off the seventh, Neal Cotts gave up Duncan's run-scoring single and Angel Guzman allowed Brian Barden's eighth-inning homer.
Twice, a perturbed Piniella instructed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to make changes on the mound. Piniella, who like most managers usually makes such moves himself, later got more agitated when asked about it.
"What's the difference whether the pitching coach, the manager, the hitting coach or the third-base coach ... makes pitching changes?" he said.
"I'm not trying to make a point about anything. You guys want to make a big deal out of who makes pitching changes. It doesn't matter. What matters is when the pitcher comes into the ballgame that he gets some outs."
An MRI Thursday confirmed that Cardinals RHP Chris Carpenter has a tear of the left oblique muscle. He received an injection and his condition will be re-evaluated next week. The Cardinals still expect him to miss four to eight weeks. ... Bradley didn't start for a third straight game due to a groin injury and Piniella said it could be five days before he is ready to return to right field. Micah Hoffpauir got his first start in place of Bradley and went 0-for-4. ... Ludwick's RBI infield single in the first extended his hitting streak to 19 games dating to last season.