LOS ANGELES -- Although Ryan Franklin graciously accepted his teammates' congratulations in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse for his 30th save, the St. Louis closer thought the spotlight should be on Chris Carpenter's setup work.
"The last two outs were pretty tough, but the first 24 that he got were even tougher," Franklin said with a laugh.
Rick Ankiel put St. Louis ahead with a two-run homer in the seventh inning, and Carpenter pitched eight innings of five-hit ball in the Cardinals' ninth victory in 10 games, 3-2 over Los Angeles on Monday night.
Albert Pujols hit his major league-leading 39th homer as the Cardinals opened a seven-game California road trip by persevering against knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, who was largely outstanding in his debut for Los Angeles.
Carpenter (13-3) fell behind twice, but Pujols and Ankiel connected to ensure his fifth consecutive victory. The Cardinals moved to within 2 1/2 games of the Dodgers' overall NL lead, Carpenter claims he doesn't pay much attention to the standings.
"I don't know what our numbers are," said Carpenter, 5-0 in six career starts against the Dodgers. "I don't know what our record is. I do know we've got a chance to win every time we come to the ballpark, and that's exciting. You can't not get excited about a game like this in a ballpark like this against a team like this."
Carpenter is a big reason for the Cardinals' surge, going 8-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his nine starts since July began.
Ankiel homered after Haeger (0-1) hit Ryan Ludwick with a pitch, sending a knuckleball that didn't knuckle deep into the right-field corner. Ankiel was in a 1-for-17 slump before his ninth homer of the season.
"There's no yellow light, there's no warning sign, if the knuckleball decides to tumble to the wrong guy," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
"I know they've both hit me pretty hard in the past," Franklin said. "I've tried to get a little smarter. ... If you were going to ask me at the start of the year if I was going to have 30 saves, I would have said, 'I hope.' That's a pretty big deal."
James Loney had an RBI single in the fifth for the Dodgers, who opened a tough seven-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. With numerous pitching woes and an inconsistent lineup, Los Angeles is three games below .500 since the All-Star break.
"You've got to give him credit," Ramirez said of Carpenter. "He didn't make a lot of mistakes out there, and when you've got a Cy Young-type pitcher like that pitching and he doesn't make mistakes, he's going to be tough to hit."
With Jason Schmidt and Hiroki Kuroda out of the rotation with injuries, the Dodgers used Haeger as their 10th starting pitcher of the season. Haeger appeared in 19 games over the past three seasons with the White Sox and San Diego before winning 11 games this year in the thin air of Albuquerque, which he compared to "pitching on the Moon."
Haeger was solid, but the Cardinals' big hits were enormous.
"I'd like to have those two back, obviously," said Haeger, who doesn't yet have a nameplate over his locker. "But I felt good out there, and I was able to throw strikes and get some early contact. There's certain instances where I can kind of command the ball on either side of the plate, but in those cases tonight, a couple got away from me, especially that one to Ludwick. If I don't hit him, the game's still tied."
He retired St. Louis' first eight batters before Carpenter's single ricocheted off third base. Pujols led off the fourth with a high shot to left field, but Haeger retired the next 10 Cardinals.
Matt Holliday, who went 1 for 4, fouled a pitch off his leg in the ninth, but stayed at the plate after examination from the training staff. He beat out an infield single before leaving the game for pinch-runner Colby Rasmus, and manager Tony La Russa planned to wait until Tuesday afternoon to decide whether he'll play.
Brad Ausmus started for the Dodgers because of his previous experience catching knuckleballers. Russell Martin took over in the ninth inning and made a throwing error, Los Angeles' first error in nine games. ... Ankiel's homer was his first since July 30, also against Los Angeles. ... The Cardinals took three of four from the Dodgers in St. Louis last month.