ST. LOUIS – Just like in the past, Kyle McClellan handed the ball over with three outs to go and waited.
The former setup man, now unbeaten as a starter, worked into the ninth inning to become the NL's third five-game winner in the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. He watched as the bullpen labored to close it out.
"It's nerve-racking in those situations," McClellan said. "I know what they're going through."
Colby Rasmus had a two-run double and Tyler Greene matched his career best with three hits for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who took two of three in the series.
Albert Pujols, who led the league with 42 doubles last season, hit his second this year with a drive to the warning track that center fielder Carlos Gomez lost in the sun. Pujols also started a rare 4-3-2 double play in the fourth to erase a scoring threat, going home to easily catch Jonathan Lucroy trying to score from second after Carlos Gomez was caught in a rundown between first and second.
"That could have been the difference in the game, but we're used to seeing that," McClellan said. "All the time, Albert's looking to make the big play."
McClellan (5-0) took a three-hit shutout into the ninth and left after Prince Fielder's leadoff single. He made 22 relief appearances against the Brewers the previous three seasons, none longer than two innings.
After throwing 106 pitches Sunday, McClellan felt strong.
"I don't feel like I was out of gas," McClellan said. "I believe in myself, I believe I can get a job done."
The Brewers went on to load the bases with two outs and, down to their final strike, pinch-hitter Craig Counsell fouled off seven pitches with two strikes. The pesky Counsell, now 2 for 10 as a pinch hitter, ended a 13-pitch at-bat with an infield RBI single off Eduardo Sanchez.
"He kept throwing strikes and I couldn't put the barrel on it, so it was a fun at-bat, for sure," Counsell said. "I was happy I gave us a chance, that's your job in that situation.
"I would have loved to have hit a grand slam, but when you get two strikes on you, you're just trying to get on base any way you can."
Fernando Salas then struck out Rickie Weeks on three pitches for his third save in three chances.
McClellan had his longest outing of the year. The strong effort came five days after a five-inning appearance that was his shortest. McClellan took injured Adam Wainwright's spot in the rotation, is tied with Kevin Correia of the Pirates and Roy Halladay of the Phillies for the NL victory lead.
McClellan escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first created by Greene's fielding error at second base by getting Yuniesky Betancourt on an infield popup. The Brewers had only two runners in scoring position the next six innings.
Chris Narveson (1-3) gave up two earned runs in six innings on six days' rest. The Brewers didn't back him with their bats, managing only five hits. During their 2-8 road trip, they hit only .169, scored a total of 17 runs and were shut out three times.
Ryan Braun had a broken-bat single and is in a 3-for-29 slump this month with no RBIs. Fielder's single snapped and 0-for-16 slump, and he's 3-for-28 in May with a homer and one RBI.
"Hey, it's been a rough trip," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I know we're a little bit hot and cold, but I don't think we're like this."
Narveson struggled against the bottom of the order, with seventh- and eighth-place hitters Nick Punto and Greene combining for four hits and a sacrifice fly.
Punto singled and Greene reached on an infield hit to start the fifth. The runners stayed put when McClellan popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt — third base umpire Gary Darling ruled that Narveson intentionally dropped it — Rasmus followed with a double into the right-field corner that easily scored both runners.
"I was one pitch away from getting out of the inning," Narveson said. "Rasmus did a good job, he got his count and hit the ball where he needed to."
Lance Berkman's grounder to open the sixth scooted between third baseman Casey McGehee's legs at third for a two-base error and he scored on Punto's one-out sacrifice fly.
NOTES: Greene has a pair of three-hit games, the other on June 10, 2009 at Florida. He had been in an 0-for-16 slump. ... The Brewers are 1-6 in Narveson's starts. ... McClellan had been 0-4 with a 2.82 ERA in 22 career relief outings against the Brewers, none of them longer than two innings.