ST. LOUIS -- Rangers manager Ron Washington didn't have to think long when asked what impressed him the most about his starter Martin Perez.
"His mound presence," Washington said. "You didn't see him lose his presence. He just kept pounding the strike zone, changing speeds and working fast. More than anything though, his mound presence never changed and never wavered. He never had to calm himself down one bit. He was in charge tonight.
"I've always seen the stuff, but this is the first time he's shown he's a big league pitcher."
That's exactly what Perez wants to show, and this was a big first step by beating the team with the best record in baseball on its home turf. Perez held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings and pitched the Rangers (43-32) to a 4-2 victory on Saturday night before a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.
The victory combined with Seattle's 7-5 win over Oakland (44-33) at Safeco Field creates a virtual tie atop the American League West standings.
"It's amazing man ... the team that won the World Series in 2011," Perez said. "I just thought I had to work good and do the same thing I did in Triple-A. ... I can't put more pressure on myself. I have the ball, they have the bat and if I throw the ball where I want to, they don't have much of a chance. I had a job to do and I did the best I can."
This was pretty good in his second start this season and eighth in the Majors going back to last year. Perez outpitched Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller, who gave up a pair of two-run home runs to A.J. Pierzynski and Nelson Cruz. The start of the game was delayed for over an hour by rain, but the Rangers ended up winning for the fifth time in six games, including two straight over the Cardinals.
"We're just taking a lot of energy and a lot of intensity into each game," outfielder David Murphy said. "Obviously, we're swinging the bat better and pitching well, things are going better. We're in a good place and we need to focus on staying here as long as we can."
Perez, relying mainly on his sinker, slider and devastating changeup, held the Cardinals to five hits and one walk while striking out three. He threw just 82 pitches -- 55 strikes -- in his second Major League victory. His other big league win was in his first start last season, a 7-2 win over Oakland on June 30. This was also the longest of his eight Major League starts.
Perez had lost his last four Major League starts going back to last year, including his first one this season against the D-backs on May 27. Perez was sent back to Triple-A after allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings and remained with Round Rock before being called up for this start.
Perez is with the Rangers because Alexi Ogando is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Ogando, who has been out since June 5, is supposed to begin throwing off a mound on Sunday, but Perez should have at least a couple of more starts to convince people he belongs in the rotation.
"He was awesome," Pierzynski said. "It's the first time I've seen him or caught him, and his stuff was as good as I've seen. Great changeup. His changeup really stood out. He got a lot of big outs with it. After the first inning, he really took control of the game and just got better and better."
Perez gave up one run in the first inning when Carlos Beltran singled with one out, moved to second on Matt Holliday's slow grounder and scored on Allen Craig's single to center.
Pierzynski then hit his two-run home run in the top of the second against Miller to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. The Cardinals came back in the bottom of the second to tie the game as David Freese led off with a triple and scored on Shane Robinson's sacrifice fly. But Cruz put the Rangers ahead with a two-run home run in the top of the third.
Miller was pitching up in the zone, and the Rangers made him pay for it. He struck out five and got one out on a grounder, but every other out was in the air.
"You're going to get a lot of fly balls with a power-hitting team," Miller said. "The middle of the lineup over there really doesn't get the ball on the ground. They're going to hit balls hard. I got away with a couple more tonight that potentially could have been worse. They've got a good lineup over there, a great lineup. When you're leaving balls over the middle, they're going to hit it pretty good."'
Perez, who had no such problems, made his lead stand up. After Freese's triple, he allowed just two singles and a walk before his night came to an end. Perez retired the last 10 batters he faced before Tanner Scheppers took over in the bottom of the eighth.
"When they gave me the lead, I said this is my game," Perez said. "I need to control myself and do exactly that."
He did indeed.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.