ST. LOUIS -- A night after one of the worst lopsided losses in franchise history, the Cardinals called upon Adam Wainwright.
It's the pitcher the club wanted on the mound in such a spot. And it's exactly the person who wanted to be there.
Wainwright, with assistance from a Carlos Beltran blast, helped the Cardinals rebound with a 3-1 win over the Giants at Busch Stadium on Thursday. The win wrapped up a 5-2 homestand that put the Cardinals within 5 1/2 games of the first-place Reds, who play Thursday evening.
"We're fortunate enough to have one of those stoppers on your staff who will take a bad run or something headed in the wrong direction and will turn it around with a solid start," manager Mike Matheny said. "Adam seems to be taking control of it and giving us a great opportunity to right the ship."
The victory gave the Cardinals a series split with the National League West-leading Giants. The two clubs also split the six-game season series, a footnote that could become consequential if the teams were to eventually tie for a Wild Card spot.
"That's a good team over there, too, and that's a team that's going to be right there in the end with their pitching staff and their lineup," said reliever Mitchell Boggs, who contributed a scoreless inning in relief. "This was a good way to end the homestand."
Of more immediate interest to the Cardinals than picking through various playoff scenarios was ensuring that the bitter taste of Wednesday's 15-0 loss didn't linger. Wainwright did his part, picking up his second win of the homestand by limiting the Giants to only one run in seven innings Thursday.
It was not only a bounceback performance for the team. It was also one for Wainwright, who was disgusted by what he saw when he prepared for the outing by watching video of his May 17 start in San Francisco.
"I was just brutal," said Wainwright, who allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings that day. "I knew I was bad. I didn't know I was that bad. I've come a long way since then."
He's come out of it looking much like the ace he once was.
On the heels of a complete-game performance, Wainwright kept the Giants hitless through three innings. Potential trouble brewed in the middle innings, though Wainwright managed to strand two baserunners in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
A sacrifice fly scored one San Francisco run, but Wainwright's ability to hold the Giants hitless in four other at-bats with a runner in scoring position helped him preserve the Cardinals' lead. As it was in his last start, Wainwright's fastball command was the key to making his full repertoire work.
"He certainly has that rhythm going like he did awhile back, where he gets that ball and he knows he's going to execute that pitch," Matheny said. "It's been fun to watch these last two starts because that's what he looks like when he's really on top of his game. It's nice to see that come back."
Wainwright, who threw a season-high 119 pitches, has allowed just seven earned runs in his last five starts (36 1/3 innings). The strong stretch has helped Wainwright push his record to 10-10, making this the first time since Wainwright's season debut that his win-loss record has evened.
His ERA now sits at 3.90, the lowest it has been since 2010.
"He did a great job," said center fielder Jon Jay, whose again shined on defense. "He set the tone. He did whatever he wanted to with his pitches today. It was great to be out there and get that view of him."
Wainwright was staked to a quick 2-0 lead by Beltran, whose two-out, two-run homer in the first inning put his season total at 27. It was Beltran's third home run of the homestand and his eighth in his last 16 games.
It also gave the Cardinals their first lead since winning Monday's series opener.
"I think being able to go out there and score early and have the performance by Wainwright was huge for us," said Beltran, who has hit eight of his homers in the first inning. "That's what we needed to do. We needed to pass on what happened yesterday. Today we were able to bounce back and get the win."
Sparked by Jay, the Cardinals tacked on an insurance run in the sixth. Jay doubled and then narrowly swiped third, which put him in position to score on Allen Craig's sacrifice fly to right.
Jay, who reached base three times, now has four straight multi-hit games. He's also become Matheny's choice to keep in the leadoff spot for as long as it takes for Rafael Furcal to get healthy.
"I'm just trying to work hard, keep it simple," said Jay, whose batting average climbed back to .308. "I'm happy I was able to help out."
The Cardinals' bullpen was dominant Thursday, too.
Boggs, whose 23-appearance scoreless streak was snapped Wednesday, pitched a perfect eighth. Jason Motte entered in the ninth to pick up his 25th save in 29 chances this season.
"It meant a little bit more for me today," Boggs said of his scoreless appearance. "I feel like I needed to bounce back and have a good outing and I did. Today was a big chance for us to get a big victory and it was a good opportunity for me to help."
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.