PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - St. Louis outfielder Allen Craig repaid his manager's faith in him by hitting two home runs to lift the Cardinals to a 7-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

Craig, in his second year in Major League Baseball, had failed to record a hit since returning on August 10 from a fractured knee cap that sidelined him for two months.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was sure the young player could still deliver.

"I watched him when he was healthy (and) I said it several times -- I'd like to get him in the lineup," La Russa told reporters. "The guy's already proven he deserves playing time."

St. Louis added two more runs in the eighth and finished with 15 hits, four from Craig along with three from Yadier Molina, to cruise to a much-needed victory.

"It was definitely a big win to stop things there and end this series with a win," Craig said. "It would have been tough to lose this game."

St. Louis eluded a third consecutive defeat to the Pirates (58-64) and avoid falling further behind in the National League Central.

The Cardinals (66-58) are seven games behind leaders Milwaukee (72-51), who beat the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse pitched seven innings to record his 11th victory of the season. Lohse allowed a two-run homer to Jose Tabata in the fifth but struck out seven during an impressive outing.

Pittsburgh pitcher Paul Maholm (6-14) took the loss after surrendering three runs in five innings before giving way to the bullpen.

The Pirates were riding high at the top of the NL Central last month and moving toward their first post-season appearance since 1992 but a 10-game losing streak halted their momentum and they now trail Milwaukee by 14 games.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)