CHICAGO -- The Cubs ran out of late-inning heroics Wednesday.
David Freese hit a two-run homer and Carlos Beltran ended an 0-for-18 skid with an RBI double in a three-run sixth to spark the Cardinals to a 5-1 victory and avoid a sweep by the Cubs. Despite the loss, Chicago did claim its first series win of the season.
"We've still got to swing the bats better and score some runs and get bigger leads to be able to hold on," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Chris Volstad (0-3) took the loss, extending his winless streak to 15 starts. He has not celebrated a victory since last July 10. The right-hander cruised through five innings and then missed his spots in the sixth.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the third on Matt Carpenter's RBI single. Bryan LaHair tied it with his fourth homer of the season in the Chicago fourth.
In the Cardinals' sixth, Rafael Furcal singled and scored two outs later on Beltran's double. Freese followed with his fourth home run of the season and 22nd by the team off a 2-2 pitch.
"Two outs, you've got to be able to close those innings out," Volstad said. "One swing of the bat put us in a big hole. I had been working him in the entire game and that one [pitch] wasn't in as much as the other ones. He did a great job."
"He threw the ball really well up to that point," Sveum said of Volstad. "He got the sinker in on Freese all day long and tried to come in and left it out over the plate and that was a back breaker in that inning. ... For the most part, it was a much more improved outing and he pitched more aggressively and used his sinker and did a good job."
Rookie catcher Steve Clevenger noticed Volstad's pitches started to trend up in the sixth. Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio want their catchers to monitor the pitchers to reduce visits to the mound.
"If [the pitchers] aren't executing, we can go out and tell them," Clevenger said.
Which is what he did in the sixth.
"[Volstad] pitched really good -- just one bad inning, and I wouldn't even say it was a bad inning," Clevenger said. "The ball to Freese was in and Freese did a good job of getting to it. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe we went in there too much. Maybe we should've gone with something different. That was the game plan, we stuck with it, and Freese did a good job."
The Cubs had hoped to toast the franchise's birthday with a sweep of the defending world champions. On April 25, 1876 -- just 136 years ago -- the Cubs played their first game in franchise history. Albert Spalding threw a shutout in a 4-0 win for the team then known as the White Stockings.
The Cubs' starters were very Spalding-like in this series, stringing together 12 1/3 scoreless innings over the three games, which ended when the Cardinals scored in the third.
Volstad said he's not keeping track of his personal won-loss record. His job is to keep the team in the game.
"If I go out and pitch well and the team wins, that's all that matters," Volstad said. "You can pitch well and have a tie game like today, and let's say we win in the ninth. I don't get that win anyways. That's not even a concern for me. It's just the fact keeping the team in a position to win is the only thing I can really do. I haven't done that."
In the first two games of the series, the Cubs rallied for walk-off wins. LaHair, who had a key at-bat to set up the game-winning runs Monday and hit a game-tying homer on Tuesday, tied the game at 1 on Wednesday with a solo shot leading off the fourth off Lance Lynn (4-0).
"The first at-bat, he threw me a fastball away, fastball in and I fouled it back," LaHair said. "My second at-bat, he threw me a fastball away and I hit that one. I made the adjustment."
It was LaHair's second home run in as many games and fourth of the year. But it was only the seventh homer by the Cubs, fewest in the league.
"Coming in, he was one guy we needed to hit home runs," Sveum said. "We definitely need those two corner guys [LaHair and Ian Stewart] to drive the ball out of the ballpark."
Lynn escaped some jams, including the fifth when Darwin Barney led off with a double but was stranded.
"Whenever he did get in a little bit of trouble ... he just made better pitches," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Lynn, who leads the National League in wins. "The leadoff double [by Barney] could've turned into much more and he ended up really only getting hurt with the one fly ball, which really wasn't a bad pitch, either. All in all he really stayed locked in mentally."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.