Allen Craig has become arguably the key hitter on the team with the best record in major league baseball.
Sunday, he might have won St. Louis a game with his glove.
Craig's leaping catch at the left-field wall denied pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko of at least a two-run extra base hit -- perhaps a three-run homer -- for the game's final out as the Cardinals nipped San Diego 3-2 at Busch Stadium.
Adam Wainwright (13-5) pitched eight solid innings to take the National League lead in wins and David Freese provided a two-run double in a three-run third for St. Louis (59-37), which maintained a two-game lead on Pittsburgh in the NL Central.
But it was Craig's play on Gyorko that had everyone talking after the game.
"He feels more comfortable there than anywhere else right now," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny of Craig, who's played first base most of the season but has moved to left with Matt Holliday on the disabled list.
"He's a good athlete and he's doing a good job getting his work in where he can make a play like that."
While Craig's catch sealed the win, the play right before might have been as critical to preserving St. Louis' victory.
With Alexi Amarista on first and two outs, pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman lined a double down the left field line. But the ball bounced into the seats, perhaps robbing the Padres (43-56) a game-tying run with the speedy Amarista whizzing around third.
San Diego manager Bud Black said there was no doubt in his mind Amarista would have scored if the ball had stayed out of the seats.
"Allen had a good jump on the ball," Matheny said, "but it would have had to have been a perfect play (at the plate). It might have been a train wreck."
Benefiting from that break and Craig's great play, Edward Mujica chalked up his 28th save in 30 attempts as the Cardinals won for the ninth time in their last 12 games.
Offensively, St. Louis didn't do much with Eric Stults (8-8), save for the third inning. The pitch before Freese's tie-breaking hit, Craig again produced with runners in scoring position, delivering a game-tying single for his 77th RBI to move him into a tie for second in the NL with Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips.
In his last 29 at-bats with runners in scoring position dating to June 11, Craig has 20 hits for an otherworldly .690 average and 28 RBIs.
"If I've scored 80 runs," Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter said of Craig, "it seems like he's drove me in on 79 of them."
Stults toiled six innings, allowing eight hits, walking one and fanning two. The lefty threw 124 pitches.
"It really didn't seem that taxing because it was just overcast and humid here, not as hot as the last two days," Stults said. "Other than the third inning, I felt good about the way I pitched. I gave the team a chance to win."
NOTES: San Diego placed RHP Jason Marquis (strained right elbow) on the disabled list Sunday and recalled RHP Miles Mikolas from Triple-A Tucson. Marquis is 9-5 with a 4.05 earned run average, but is 0-3 over his last six outings. ... The Padres will recall RHP Tyson Ross to take the vacant fifth starter's role Tuesday night in Milwaukee against the Brewers. Marquis' spot in the rotation, which is due on Wednesday night, hasn't been filled yet. ... St. Louis rested RF Carlos Beltran for Sunday's day game after a Saturday night game, which lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes. CF Jon Jay also didn't start, although he entered in the seventh to play defense.