ST. LOUIS -- Five outs away from dropping their fifth game in six days to a pursuing National League Central club, the Cardinals stunned the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon by scoring three times in the eighth to steal a 4-3 victory at Busch Stadium and drop Chicago 7 1/2 games back in the race for a division title.
On a day when little went right early, St. Louis ambushed the Cubs' bullpen after going hitless over the final six frames of Jon Lester's seven-inning start. Trailing by two, the Cardinals began to stir when No. 8 hitter Mark Reynolds drew a one-out walk in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Greg Garcia followed with a hit. An RBI single by Matt Carpenter pulled the Cards to within one before Stephen Piscotty's two-run double gave them their first lead of the series.
"You don't want to get swept by the Cubs, and hopefully we take the momentum into this road trip," Piscotty said. "There was no panic. There is no quit in this team." More >
The come-from-behind win halted Chicago's winning streak at five and helped the Cardinals salvage their fourth win on a nine-game homestand in which they faced three potential postseason participants. The victory sends the Cards out of town with a 4 1/2-game division lead over the Pirates. The Cubs trail Pittsburgh by three games for the top spot in the NL Wild Card race.
"Right now, it's glaring because it's here and now and fresh in our minds, but we've closed out plenty of these games this year," Cubs starter Jon Lester said of the bullpen. "We've been doing it all year -- that's why we're in the position we're in and have won plenty of one-run and two-run games this year.
"When they don't succeed in high leverage situations, it's easy to point fingers. That's just a tough one today. We have to take the positives from this three-game series. We came in here and made a little bit of a statement."
With the team's third quality start of the series, Lester limited the Cardinals to one first-inning run over seven frames. After an RBI single by Jason Heyward, Lester retired 20 of the final 21 batters he faced. A leadoff walk in the fifth was the only interruption during that stretch.
After scoring 14 runs in the first three innings of the series' first two games, the Cubs raced out to an early lead again, scoring twice off starter Carlos Martinez in the first and adding an insurance run in the second. Anthony Rizzo and Tommy La Stella each contributed a run-scoring double. It marked the fifth time in Martinez's last eight starts that he had been unable to pitch past the fifth, but despite allowing 10 hits, he did not allow Chicago to extend its lead.
"I thought, once again, the life was there," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Martinez. "Every once and a while, he threw something that a hot-hitting team is going to put in play hard. But all in all, I thought he did a nice job of keeping it together all the way around."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Costly arm issues: Hopeful that Randal Grichuk's bat would make up for the limitations he had in the field, the Cardinals instead watched the Cubs score twice early by taking advantage of the center fielder's inability to throw. After fielding a first-inning hit by Rizzo, Grichuk, who had been sidelined with an elbow injury since mid-August, had to flip the ball to right fielder Heyward to get it back to the infield. That extra time taken allowed Chris Coghlan to score from first. The Cubs scored their third run an inning later on a single to center. Grichuk could not make a throw to the plate.
"When teams see that, they're going to run," Heyward said. "I haven't done that before. I don't think I've seen it the whole time playing baseball -- from five until now." More >
Glove work: Coghlan made the catch of the game in the fifth. With two outs and a runner at first, pinch-hitter Tommy Pham hit a fly ball to right field that was drifting toward foul territory. Coghlan, making just his seventh start of the season in right, chased after the ball and caught it, then fell headfirst into the seats along the line. A stadium usher there got out of the way, then was nice enough to help Coghlan to his feet. Somehow, Coghlan held onto the ball for the out. More >
Reliable relief: With the team's starter exiting before the sixth for the third straight day, the Cardinals asked the bullpen to carry a heavy load again. Four relievers, most of whom are used to pitching when the team is leading, answered the call and allowed one baserunner over four scoreless innings to set up the come-from-behind win.
"I think we did a good job of bouncing back," said Trevor Rosenthal, who notched his 43rd save. "I think as much adversity as we can face, it's going to be beneficial to us down the stretch. Just having these tough games, having to grind them out, that's definitely what we're looking to achieve."
Eighth wonder: The Cubs had a 3-1 lead going into the eighth and Pedro Strop retired the first batter he faced, but he walked Mark Reynolds, and that was the at-bat that cost the Cubs. Manager Joe Maddon said he liked the matchups, but pinch-hitter Greg Garcia singled, and Strop was lifted for Clayton Richard, who served up an RBI single to Matt Carpenter.
"We can't permit that to happen," Maddon said. "We played a great game. We had the right guys on their part of the batting order. We have to finish that game off." More >
"You can't help but feel the cumulative effect of a few that hadn't gone your way. This will be a much happier flight than if things had gone otherwise." -- Matheny, on the team preventing a sweep by the Cubs
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With his single in the second, Lester now is 2-for-86 in his career at the plate, and both of his hits have come against the Cardinals. He also hit an infield single July 6 at Wrigley Field off John Lackey.
Heyward hit an RBI single in the Cardinals' first and then stole second, but the Cubs challenged the call, saying La Stella made the tag in time. After a review, the call was confirmed and Heyward was credited with his 21st steal.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jake Arrieta will try for his Major League-leading 19th win on Thursday when he faces the Phillies in the first of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Arrieta has lost one game in his past 15 starts, and that was to the Phils on July 25 when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter at Wrigley Field. Arrieta has posted 15 consecutive quality starts, and he is 12-1 in that stretch. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.
Cardinals: St. Louis will open up a 10-game, 11-day road trip through the NL Central with the start of a four-game series in Cincinnati on Thursday. Jaime Garcia will start the 6:10 p.m. CT game for the Cardinals, who have won each of Garcia's past seven starts.