ST. LOUIS — After rookie Martin Perez silenced the St. Louis Cardinals, his manager was non-stop with praise.
"I've always seen the stuff, but tonight was the first time I think he showed he's a big-league pitcher," Ron Washington said after the Texas Rangers' 4-2 victory Saturday night. "It can be a huge step, he just beat a pretty good team.
"He should be proud. I know we are."
Nelson Cruz got the decisive hit for the second straight game with a two-run homer in the third inning for the Rangers, who have won four of five after losing six in a row.
Fellow rookie Shelby Miller (8-5) allowed two homers for the second time in three starts and didn't make it out of the sixth against the team the Cardinals beat in the 2011 World Series, Texas was making its first regular-season visit to Busch Stadium.
"I'm not saying that if I make a better pitch I get them out, but both pitches were right down the middle, perfect pitches to hit," Miller said. "The first one was supposed to be in and the other one was supposed to be away, and both kind of ended up right down the middle of the plate."
A.J. Pierzynski also hit a two-run homer for Texas, which goes for a three-game sweep on Sunday night with Nick Tepesch (3-6, 4.84) facing Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.37). The first two games have been sellouts and the finale was supposed to be a matchup of aces, but the Rangers are saving Yu Darvish for the Yankees Tuesday in New York.
They didn't want Perez to come up in New York, either.
Perez (1-1) was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock where he was 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA. The lefty allowed a run in each of the first two innings but gave up just two hits the next five innings and retired the last 10.
Though perhaps the Rangers' top prospect, Perez entered 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA with seven starts.
"I just had to do the same job I'm doing at Triple-A," Perez said. "The first two innings I missed a couple pitches but after that I just said 'OK, this is my game.'"
Joe Nathan wrapped up a game that had all of the scoring in the first three innings with a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 25 chances. The start of the game was delayed by rain 66 minutes. It was the second such delay this week.
Earlier Saturday, Washington said he felt good about Cruz's tiebreaking two-run single in the ninth on Friday because the Rangers need wins, and not because Cruz needed redemption. The Rangers were an out away from taking the '11 Series when Cruz misplayed David Freese's game-tying triple in Game 6.
Cruz snapped a 2-2 third-inning tie with a two-run homer, his 19th of the season to the opposite field in right. He also singled and has four hits and five RBIs the first two games of the series.
Miller departed after bouncing a throw to first on a sacrifice bunt by Perez that loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth. Fellow rookie Seth Maness got Ian Kinsler on a groundout to end the sixth.
Miller is 3-2 this month, the other loss coming when he gave up two homers and four runs on the road against the Mets. Manager Mike Matheny couldn't find fault with pitches that the right-hander left up.
"He lives there, that's where his success is, so that's one of those two-edged swords," Matheny said. "Most of the guys in the league have a tough time catching up to him. You don't see many guys that see him the first time able to square balls up the first pitch they see on the top of the zone."
The Cardinals have opened the scoring both games and took the lead on Allen Craig's RBI single in the first with Carlos Beltran just beating the relay to the plate from center fielder Leonys Martin.
The Rangers answered when Adrian Beltre doubled to open the second and Pierzynski lined the next pitch into the right field seats for his seventh homer. The Cardinals tied it in the bottom half when Freese tripled off the top of the wall in right-center and scored on Shane Robinson's sacrifice fly.
NOTES: St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead threw the ceremonial first pitch. ... Tepesch is 0-2 with a 9.77 ERA in his last three starts, and Washington said he needs to develop trust in all of his pitches. ... Wainwright has worked at least seven innings six straight starts, going 5-1. ... Cardinals RHP Michael Blazek made his major league debut and struck out two in a perfect ninth. ... Yadier Molina was 0 for 4 to end a seven-game hitting streak, dropping his league-leading average to .366. He batted .423 (11 for 26) during the streak. ... Craig has 21 RBIs this month, his best month ever. ... Cruz has 11 RBIs the last six games with a .400 average (10 for 25).