ST. LOUIS -- By the time Lance Berkman strolled to his stall, the clubhouse had mostly emptied. The crowd that had gathered to talk to Matt Carpenter, whose career day highlighted the Cardinals' 10-3 win over the Cubs at Busch Stadium, had dispersed.
But to those who were still around and willing to listen, Berkman offered a proposal.
"I'll sit the bench if he keeps doing that," Berkman said. "We can't do any better than that."
Of course, he wouldn't really advocate such a set up. Right?
"Sure," Berkman insisted. "I'd be more than happy to. If you told me he's going to hit like that the rest of the year, I'd come off the bench and pinch-hit."
The Cardinals won't take Berkman up on the offer, but St. Louis did get relief in a big way while playing without Berkman and David Freese again on Sunday.
Making his fourth straight start at first base, Carpenter continued to thrive as a fill-in. He posted the first four-hit game of his brief Major League career and punctuated it with his first career home run. He drove home a career-best five and fell a double short of hitting for the cycle.
"I don't think I could have [written] it up any better," Carpenter said. "It's just one of those special days."
After singling in his first two at-bats, Carpenter connected for a two-run homer in the fifth. It traveled an estimated 428 feet and gave St. Louis an 8-2 lead. Two innings later, he tripled home two more runs.
Add that to the rest of his series numbers, and Carpenter finished the three-game set with seven hits and seven RBIs. He is also only one of two Cardinals rookies since 1960 to have four hits and five RBIs in the same game. Joe Hague last accomplished the feat in '70.
"We knew a little bit from [former Cardinals coach] Dave [McKay], who had seen him in Spring Training," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He hadn't seen him this good."
No one had, since this recent stretch marks the first time that Carpenter has enjoyed consistent playing time at this level. He won himself a spot on the club with a tremendous spring showing after increasing his value by adding first base and the outfield to his resume over the winter.
It was with the help of a former college coach and his father, a high school baseball coach, that Carpenter came through the crash course a capable defender at three new positions.
"It's a great reward when you see someone come in and work as hard as Matt did and then have the talent and the results to back it up," manager Mike Matheny said. "An opportunity presents itself not always how we want it to with Lance kind of being held up for a while. But when that happens, somebody is going to have to step up."
Carpenter's string of starts at first are likely near an end, as Berkman is expected to return to the field later in the week. But with Freese (finger irritation) and Carlos Beltran (forearm tightness) now both dealing with ailments, the Cardinals will find ways to keep Carpenter involved.
"Just filling in for the time being," Carpenter said, emphasizing that he understands his role. "We're just playing one day at a time."
Carpenter's home run was one of two for the Cardinals, who are the current league leaders in the category. Yadier Molina's three-run blast off Cubs starter Paul Maholm put St. Louis ahead, 6-0, in the third inning.
It was the third homer of the year for Molina, who hit a career-high 14 last year. He has driven in 10, an RBI total that trails team-leader Freese by only one.
"You get more experience when you get more at-bats," Molina said of his improved offensive results in recent years. "But at the same time, you have to work hard and try to get better."
Production was dispersed throughout the lineup. Matt Holliday drove home a run with is third-inning single. Beltran reached base three times in as many plate appearances and scored each time. He was taken out of the game in the sixth after his right forearm tightened where he had been plunked.
Molina also finished the game with three hits and three runs scored.
"Obviously, Albert's not here and Freese and Berkman were out, but they still have a good lineup," Maholm said. "When those two guys are in there, it'll be tough to deal with them."
While Maholm endured his second straight four-inning start, Jake Westbrook had improved command of his sinker, which hadn't been sharp enough in his previous outing. The effectiveness of the pitch was obvious early, as only one ball reached the outfield in the first three innings. Westbrook threw seven first-pitch strikes that first time through Chicago's order.
The Cubs pushed across a run in both the fourth and the fifth. One scored on a wild pitch. The other was unearned, aided by Tyler Greene's fielding error. Westbrook wrapped up his seven-inning outing by retiring eight of the final nine hitters he faced.
"That's an aggressive team, and they like to swing," said Westbrook, who is 2-0 for the first time since 2006. "I'm successful when I get ahead and control counts. That makes them have to continue to swing the bat."
With the win, the Cardinals claimed the series. They have yet to drop a series this season.
"Our players were ready to play," Matheny said. "It was a big weekend, and I think they answered the bell."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.