ST. LOUIS -- Poor pitching and a rash of injuries have put the San Francisco Giants in an early hole in the National League West.
Perhaps the best news of all was the successful return of the closer they sought after their bullpen held them back continually during a 2016 season that culminated with a ninth-inning meltdown in a year-ending loss to the Chicago Cubs in the NL Division Series.
Coming back from a stint on the 10-day disabled list due to a right pronator strain, closer Mark Melancon efficiently locked down the ninth inning. After Kolten Wong's leadoff hit, Melancon induced a first-pitch flyout from pinch-hitter Matt Adams.
Dexter Fowler, whose three-run homer off George Kontos in the seventh gave St. Louis a 5-3 lead, got the count to 3-1. But Melancon got him to reach for a cutter off the outside corner, resulting in a 1-6-3 double play that held up after a quick replay review.
It was Melancon's seventh save and San Francisco's seventh road win in 22 games, upping its overall mark to 18-25.
"It was fun to get a little bit of the jitters, especially the way the game played out," Melancon said.
Fans of both teams could be excused if they had the jitters every time someone appeared out of their bullpen. After Giants starter Matt Moore and Cardinals starter Michael Wacha recorded quality starts, their relief offered equal parts unleaded fuel and help.
Two St. Louis relievers coughed up the 2-0 lead Wacha left them in the seventh, giving up three runs. Third baseman Jedd Gyorko booted a potential double-play grounder, Denard Span singled in the tying run and Joe Panik's slow bouncer to the mound chased home the go-ahead run.
Not to be outdone, San Francisco's bullpen quickly ruined Moore's chance at a win in the Cardinals' seventh. Fowler belted a three-run homer to give St. Louis a 5-3 lead.
Another RBI hit by Span made it 5-4, a tenuous edge left for Seung Hwan Oh (1-2) as he started the ninth. Brandon Belt started the inning with his third single and Brandon Crawford followed up with his third hit, a single that moved Belt to third.
Eduardo Nunez needed just one pitch to hang the night's third blown save on a reliever, lacing a go-ahead two-run double off the base of the left-center field wall.
"The boys kept battling," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Look how it came together, good two-strike hitting by Crawford, and then (Nunez) with the big hit."
Oh said it was an outing where nothing went well.
"First thing was letting the leadoff (hitter) reach base," he said through translator Eugene Koo. "Second was a (bad) pitch against Nunez."
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who was tossed just before a 46-minute rain delay in the seventh inning for arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Nic Lentz, admitted his team's third straight loss was difficult.
"You feel like you got yourself in the right position a couple of times and we just can't put it away," Matheny said. "Those are hard to have."
Making his first start since May 7, Wacha dealt six scoreless innings, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out five.
Moore yielded five hits and two runs in his six innings, walking three and whiffing five. Tommy Pham scored Fowler on a sacrifice fly in the third and Yadier Molina doubled home Gyorko in the sixth.
Bryan Morris pitched a clean eighth inning for San Francisco, upping his record to 2-0 thanks to his team's rally in the ninth.
NOTES: St. Louis Friday activated INF Jhonny Peralta (upper respiratory condition) from the 10-day DL and optioned OF Magneuris Sierra to Double-A Springfield. Peralta went 6-for-19 in six rehab games, split between Class A Palm Beach and Triple-A Memphis. ... San Francisco INF Conor Gillaspie (back spasms) started a rehab assignment Friday night at Triple-A Sacramento and was 1-for-3 He could be back for the Giants' series at the Chicago Cubs Monday through Thursday. ... Cardinals RF Stephen Piscotty (hamstring), who left after an at-bat Thursday in his rehab assignment at Double-A Springfield when he tweaked his knee, was back in the Springfield lineup Friday and went 1-for-3.