CHICAGO -- Jhonny Peralta belted a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth to power the Cardinals to a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field and split the four-game series.
"It was a well-played series, and we had a chance to do what we wanted to do and failed," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Peralta lined a 1-2 pitch from Pedro Strop into the basket rimming the left-field bleachers for his 12th homer, driving in pinch-runner Pete Kozma. Matt Carpenter had walked with two outs, and was lifted for Kozma.
"I think every win can be huge, but sometimes the way in which you do it definitely adds a little of emphasis," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Man, I just love when these guys don't give up. I don't know if I get any more of a charge out of this game than seeing guys get knocked down and watch how they respond, and see who steps up and does something special."
The Cubs were one strike away from taking the series after opening a 5-4 lead with two outs in the sixth on Miguel Montero's three-run double. Both Matheny and catcher Yadier Molina were ejected after that hit. Molina didn't like some of home-plate umpire Pat Hoberg's calls during Montero's at-bat, and was tossed. Matheny came out to defend his catcher.
"It was like that all night," Molina said of what the Cardinals thought was a tight strike zone by Hoberg. "He's a young umpire, and he needs to figure out a better strike zone."
Dan Johnson, promoted from Triple-A Memphis Wednesday to help the Cardinals' offense, hit a pair of RBI singles to open a 4-0 lead. Cardinals starter Michael Wacha also helped himself with a pair of hits, including an RBI single in the second.
Chicago had to scramble when starter Jason Hammel exited after one inning because of a hamstring injury. The All-Star break may be coming at the right time.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hammel time: This was Hammel's 17th start of the season, but it didn't last long as the right-hander was lifted after throwing 12 pitches in the first inning because of left hamstring tightness. Hammel said he felt pain after his second pitch yet finished the inning, striking out Peralta to end the first. Hammel will have an MRI on Thursday.
"It's very frustrating," Hammel said. "Hopefully it's just a strain or something like that and easily treatable and the silver lining is it's the All-Star break. It's probably the best timing for it to happen." More >
Jhonny, be gone: Peralta's team-leading 12th home run was arguably his biggest yet this year. Down to his final strike, Peralta drove a fastball from Strop into the left-field bleachers to keep the Cardinals from dropping a third straight game. The game-winning homer gave the Cardinals their 10th final at-bat win of the year and just their second victory when trailing after eight innings.
"I have a lot of hits in my career, but that was one of my best," said Peralta, who had been homerless since June 21. "It is a good moment for me right now." More >
Said Strop: "I knew he got good wood -- it was a hard sound. I didn't think it was going to go out. It was a good pitch -- I really don't know how he hit it."
Opportunity knocks: The Cubs' two All-Stars, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, combined for a run in the fourth when Rizzo singled and scored on Bryant's triple. One out later, Bryant tallied on Starlin Castro's infield hit, aided when Wacha didn't cover first base on the play. For Bryant, it was his 50th RBI, tops among Major League rookies this season. In the sixth, they loaded the bases as Dexter Fowler, Rizzo and Jorge Soler each singled with one out. Wacha struck out Castro but Montero lined the go-ahead double into the gap in right-center.
"It was a good at-bat, but at the end it doesn't mean anything," Montero said of his double. "We lost the game."
Bottom's up: The bottom four spots in the Cardinals' lineup keyed the offense, with Johnson delivering a pair of RBI singles, Randal Grichuk scoring twice and Wacha recording the first multi-hit game of his career. Wacha also drove in one, while Mark Reynolds reached twice and hit his second triple of the season. The four spots combined for six of the team's first seven hits.
"You bring up another guy and give him opportunities, and next thing you know he's facing a lefty and mixing in two RBI singles right off the bat," Matheny said of Johnson's Cardinals debut. "That's something that we've really been hoping for, guys to get into those big situations." More >
"The Cubs, big division games. Any win against the division is huge for us. That homer was pretty big for us. It gives us a little happy flight going into Pittsburgh, and hopefully we can take care of business there." -- Wacha, on the Cards salvaging a series split
"We did so many good things tonight. I can't walk away and be all upset. Of course, Strop would have liked to made a better pitch there and he didn't. Peralta's pretty good, and he hit a home run. It happens. Regardless of who it happened against, I know I'll keep repeating the refrain that we can play with anybody. We proved it the last four days and we'll continue to move forward." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon.More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Wednesday was the Cubs' 34th one-run game of the season, most in the Major Leagues. They're now 19-15 in those games, and the 19 wins also are tops in MLB. The Cardinals are 18-13 in such games.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The Cardinals' pitchers will be gathering for extra PFP (pitchers' fielding practice) work during their upcoming series in Pittsburgh after making a series of defensive mistakes. In Tuesday's doubleheader, both Miguel Socolovich and Kevin Siegrist sailed throws into the outfield on potential double play balls. On Wednesday, Wacha had two defensive lapses. He didn't cover first on a ground ball to the first baseman Johnson in the fourth and then compounded the sixth with his inability to field a ball back at him.
The Cubs had runners at first and third with one out in the eighth when Castro hit a ball to left that was called foul. Maddon challenged the call, but after review, it was confirmed. Castro then struck out.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals will wrap up the first half with a key four-game series in Pittsburgh that begins with a 6:05 pm CT game on Thursday. Carlos Martinez, one of the five National League players in the Final Vote competition, will vie for his 10th win of the season and first career victory over the Pirates.
Cubs: After an off-day Thursday, the Cubs will play host to their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, in a three-game Interleague series. Kyle Hendricks will start on Friday, facing the White Sox for the first time. He's coming off his first win this season at Wrigley Field in which he threw 7 1/3 shutout innings against the Marlins. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. CT.