CHICAGO -- The Cardinals' bid to secure a playoff spot will have to wait. Starlin Castro smacked a tiebreaking two-run home run in the fifth and launched a three-run shot in the sixth to power the Cubs to an 8-3 victory over the National League Central leaders in front of 40,846 at Wrigley Field on a feisty Friday afternoon.
The Giants lost to the D-backs late Friday night, but St. Louis, which boasts the best record in baseball, needed to also beat the Cubs to clinch a playoff spot. Chicago, on the other hand, continued its hot pursuit of the Pirates, and it is now one game back for the top NL Wild Card spot.
Castro also hit an RBI single in the first, and the six RBIs matches his career high, which he set in his Major League debut game on May 7, 2010, against the Reds. His first homer Friday came off Seth Maness, the Cardinals' third pitcher. Starter Lance Lynn again had an early exit against the Cubs, this time departing after walking six and giving up four hits over 3 1/3 innings. Lynn was not happy with the outing or home-plate umpire Dan Bellino, yelling from the dugout after he was pulled.
"We disagreed," Lynn said of taking exception with the strike zone. "We disagreed with some of the stuff he was giving on the other side. The low call wasn't my way. The high call wasn't my way. The low call was [Cubs starter Dan Haren's] way. The high call was his way. It's tough." More >
Matheny, though, disagreed with Lynn's own assessment.
"I'm not complaining about the strike zone because he wasn't consistent enough to complain about the strike zone," Matheny said. "We had enough misses all over the place."
Castro tallied his third career multihomer game and first this year, and acknowledged the fans with a curtain call after the second homer. Chicago, which opened its final regular-season homestand Friday, has won 18 of its past 22 home games.
"That's the biggest thing today," Castro said of the salute from the fans. "I have like six years here, and that never happened. That's my first time, and I enjoyed it so much." More >
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Penmanship:Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Fernando Rodney and Neil Ramirez combined to throw four scoreless innings, a much-needed boost for the bullpen. Grimm struck out two of the three batters he faced in an encouraging outing. The right-hander had struggled with command, walking three Phillies last Saturday. The problem? Confidence, Grimm said. He seemed to get it back with his two strikeouts.
Leave 'em loaded: After Tommy Pham's bases-loaded walk off Zac Rosscup finished the Cardinals' climb out of a three-run hole in the fifth, they could not take advantage of two opportunities to take their first lead. Rosscup struck out Jason Heyward, and Jhonny Peralta, facing Tommy Hunter, popped out to shallow right to strand three. The Cards did not advance another runner into scoring position in the game.
"We liked how we lined up with some of our guys going against certain parts of their order, but they got it done," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "There's opportunity there. … But once again, the big hit was what Castro was able to do to us."
Splits: Cubs manager Joe Maddon stacked his lineup with left-handed hitters against Lynn, and it paid off in the first. With one out, Lynn walked two batters, and Anthony Rizzo followed with an RBI single. Tommy La Stella hit an RBI double and after another walk, Castro, the first righty, smacked an RBI single for a 3-0 lead. But Maddon opted to stick with La Stella against Tyler Lyons in the fourth with two outs and the bases loaded rather than use one of the right-handers on the bench. La Stella grounded out to end the inning.
"We could bring somebody off the bench who has a high strikeout profile vs. La Stella, who is probably going to move the baseball," Maddon said. "The big bucket of information indicates play the lefty over the righty right now."
Walk this way: The Cardinals' pitching staff issued 11 walks, six of which came from Lynn, who set a career high. Three of the team's walks led directly to runs, while others complicated innings. The total was two off the Cards' season high, though that 13-walk day came in an 18-inning contest vs. the Mets. The last time St. Louis walked 11 in a nine-inning game was against the Brewers on May 18, 2009.
In just his second plate appearance since coming off the disabled list, pinch-hitter Matt Holliday was drilled in the helmet by a first-pitch 86-mph fastball from Haren in the fifth. Holliday, who would have been removed for a pinch-runner regardless of how he reached base, was immediately escorted off the field by head athletic trainer Greg Hauck. Both dugouts were issued a warning by Bellino. Holliday did pass a series of concussion tests that were administered while the game continued. Before exiting the visitors' clubhouse on Friday, he said: "I'm fine." More >
PLUNKED, PT. II
Cardinals reliever Matt Belisle hit Rizzo in his back leg with two outs in the seventh, and the righty was ejected along with Matheny. Bellino made a point of talking to each pitcher who came in to remind them of his earlier warning after Holliday was hit. For Rizzo, it was the 29th time he's been hit by a pitch, the most in the Major Leagues, and his second time in the game.
"I'm really disappointed in what the Cardinals did right there," Maddon said of Belisle hitting Rizzo. "Absolutely. We did not hit [Holliday] on purpose at all. That was an absolute mistake. There was no malicious intent whatsoever on Dan Haren's part. None. So to become this vigilante group that wants to get their own pound and flesh, that's absolutely insane, and ridiculous and wrong." More >
"I have to pitch inside," said Belisle, who was making his second appearance since June. "I was mostly away, and I have to pitch in. It's part of my game, and part of being successful up here."
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: Seeking his 17th win, Michael Wacha will make his 28th start of the season for the Cardinals as they face the Cubs in a 12:05 p.m. CT game at Wrigley Field on Saturday. Wacha is winless in three appearances (two starts) at Wrigley, though the Cards have won two of those three games.
Cubs:Travis Wood, who started Sept. 12 against the Phillies, will get his second spot start on Saturday. The lefty, who began the season in the bullpen, threw three scoreless innings in Philadelphia. In his last outing on Thursday, he picked up the save against the Pirates, throwing two scoreless frames. This will be his ninth start of the season.