LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chad Billingsley claims he got just as much satisfaction from the first pitch of his comeback start as the final fastball, which coaxed a rally-killing double play grounder from Albert Pujols.
Though the other Dodgers might disagree with that, they're just grateful to have their slump-stopping starter back in good health.
Billingsley yielded three hits over six strong innings and added an RBI single in the Dodgers' 7-3 victory over St. Louis on Tuesday night, snapping the Cardinals' five-game winning streak in a meeting of first-place clubs.
Andre Ethier went 3 for 4 with a triple and a late run-scoring double for the Dodgers, who improved the NL's best record to 71-49 with just their fourth win in 11 games.
Los Angeles clearly needs Billingsley (12-6), who missed his previous scheduled start after straining his left hamstring Aug. 7, to shore up a rotation already missing Hiroki Kuroda and Jason Schmidt. The All-Star right-hander has yielded just three earned runs and nine hits in his last three starts, though he doesn't see himself as a stopper just yet.
"I'm just trying to get back in it, and I'm happy with how it went," Billingsley said. "I just have to pitch my game, and I can win any time."
Manny Ramirez and James Loney had run-scoring singles in the middle innings as seven Dodgers drove in a run apiece during a 14-hit attack. Los Angeles, which had lost a season-high four straight at home, remained 4 1/2 games ahead of Colorado atop the NL West despite being two games below .500 since the All-Star break.
"He was mixing it up pretty good, because it didn't seem like anybody was getting good swings off of him," Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel said of Billingsley. "He really kept us at bay, and this is a pretty good lineup to keep at bay."
Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton has been criticized in Los Angeles after some recent struggles, but he retired Pujols to end an eighth-inning threat before completing a four-out save, his 26th in 30 chances.
"We didn't want this thing to get out of hand," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who also used reliever George Sherrill to escape a seventh-inning jam. "This game was very important to us."
Brendan Ryan and Khalil Greene drove in runs for the Cardinals, who have lost just twice in 11 games.
One night after hitting his major league-leading 39th homer, Pujols went 0 for 4 with three inning-ending outs. Matt Holliday also went 0 for 4, failing to get a hit for just the third time in 23 games since arriving from Oakland -- and snapping a 19-game hitting streak against the Dodgers.
St. Louis fell behind 5-0 in the fifth inning before cutting the Dodgers' lead to two runs, but Loney scored on a headfirst slide in the seventh, barely getting his hand under the tag after Russell Martin's double. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ran onto the field to argue.
"I knew I got there first," Loney said. "That's been our team most of the season. Different guys are getting RBIs every night, and it's good to see."
Mitchell Boggs (1-2) gave up nine hits and five runs while failing to escape the fourth inning for the Cardinals, who appear interested in signing John Smoltz. Boggs is winless in his last six starts for St. Louis, which could entice Smoltz with an immediate rotation spot.
"I think what I had to do early in the game had a lot to do with what happened later in my outing," Boggs said. "I threw too many pitches. I had an opportunity in the first inning to get out of there with only nine pitches, but I ended up throwing 20 pitches that inning and 20 pitches in the next inning. I didn't run out of gas at all, but when they get to see that many pitches, that's not a recipe for success."
Los Angeles scored its first two runs on four straight hits in the fourth inning. After Ankiel misjudged Martin's double to center, Billingsley drove home Martin when the pitcher's fly dropped between Ankiel and right fielder Ryan Ludwick.
Ethier then led off the fifth with a triple that Ankiel barely missed on a dive, and Ramirez drove him home to kick off a three-run inning.
NOTES: RHP Jeff Weaver will start for the Dodgers against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday in place of Hiroki Kuroda, who has a concussion after getting hit in the head by a line drive last weekend. Weaver, a longtime starter, has started six games for Los Angeles this season in spot duty. ... Matt Kemp sat out for the Dodgers with an apparent case of the flu.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)