ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps it has been misguided to label Lance Lynn merely as a rotation replacement, a fill-in just biding his time until Chris Carpenter returns. Carpenter may have opened the door for Lynn to exit the bullpen and return to his roots, but three starts into his season, Lynn has proven that he has found his fit.
Lynn became the team's first starter to win three games, and he did so by dominating the Pirates for seven innings on Friday night. Behind Lynn, the Cardinals took the series opener at PNC Park, 4-1, giving St. Louis its league-best sixth road win.
It also moved Lynn into impressive company. A 24-year-old right-hander who had never been on an Opening Day roster until this year, he now joins Roy Halladay as the National League's only three-game winners.
"That was just great pitching," manager Mike Matheny said. "He just looked in control. He found his groove and then didn't really look back."
A night that ended with the Cards collecting their fifth win in six games actually began much more ominously. Activated off the disabled list only hours early, Skip Schumaker tumbled to the ground after running into the outfield wall as he tracked a first-inning fly ball.
Schumaker had the wind knocked out of him upon impact and, despite lobbying to stay in, exited the game. Matheny wasn't taking any chances, given that the point of impact in the collision was the same rib cage area where Schumaker suffered an oblique strain last month. He was replaced by Erik Komatsu.
On the play, Alex Presley scurried around home for the first inside-the-park home run off a Cardinals pitcher since 2007.
"It wasn't ideal, that's for sure," Schumaker said. "Even worse, not being able to get the ball and just stare at it for a little bit was fun, too. I'm just glad we won the game and that wasn't the run that cost the game."
He is expected to be available for the rest of the series.
Pittsburgh's advantage lasted a mere half inning, and Lynn went on to face only one over the minimum the rest of the way. He erased two baserunners on double plays and another was thrown out trying to steal. The Pirates, who entered the game with a season batting average of .205, struck out four times. They never advanced a runner into scoring position after Presley's hit.
Though he allowed the same number of hits and runs as he did in his last outing, Lynn was much more efficient Friday. He again threw 88 pitches, but this time over seven innings. He lasted just 5 1/3 last Saturday.
"The first two batters I thought it was going to be a long night," said Lynn, who gave up a hit immediately after Presley's homer. "But I was able to rebound, make some good pitches early on to get some double plays. I was just trying to fill up the zone and make them hit my pitch."
He went at the Pirates with lots of fastballs early, then mixed in more curveballs late. He teased the Pirates, too, by throwing more first-pitch off-speed pitches as the game progressed. He ended his night with some drama, too. After issuing a six-pitch walk with two out in the seventh, Lynn worked back from a 3-0 count to strike out Garrett Jones. At the time, the Cardinals' lead was just one.
"Probably threw a few more breaking balls, sliders and changeups, but nothing that kind of whacked us out," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He just hit his spots and was very aggressive."
That has been Lynn's modus operandi so far this year, and he has parlayed that into a better-than-hoped-for start. Opponents have recorded only 10 hits off Lynn, who actually has three himself. His performance also plugged another win into the rotation's league-high total of nine.
A rotation that has been largely overshadowed by the Cardinals' explosive early-season offense now has an ERA of 2.87. Take Adam Wainwright's results out of the mix, and the other four members of the starting staff have combined to allow 12 earned runs in 11 games.
"You want to go out there and try to one-up them so that they can one-up you next time," Lynn said of the in-rotation competition. "If we all keep doing that all year, it will be a fun year."
A pair of eighth-inning runs gave the Cardinals a cushion in a game that was close for most of the night. Facing Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton, who came in with a career 6.25 ERA against St. Louis, the Cardinals capitalized on a few early breaks to inch ahead.
Morton's own error -- he missed the base when taking a feed from first baseman Garrett Jones -- helped the Cardinals tie the game in the second.
In the fifth, Carlos Beltran pushed across the go-ahead run when he snuck a two-out single just past second baseman Neil Walker. The inning had nearly ended one batter earlier, but Matt Holliday extended it by beating out a potential inning-ending double play. Lynn, who led off the inning with a single, scored on Beltran's hit.
A solo homer from Daniel Descalso and the Pirates' fourth error of the night led to two more runs in the eighth. Mitchell Boggs, who blew a save in his last outing, followed Lynn with a 1-2-3 eighth. Jason Motte then collected his third save with a scoreless ninth.
"That was a tough game," Matheny said. "This Pittsburgh team has had a lot of tough games. Most of their games have been very close, and they've had a lot of one-run games."
Eight of Pittsburgh's first 12 games have been decided by one run. As for the Cardinals, eight of their 10 victories have come by a margin of at least three.
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.