CHICAGO -- Less than 24 hours after being described as "vigilantes" by an opposing manager angry that his All-Star first baseman had twice been plunked by pitches, the Cardinals watched with increasing irritation as the Cubs hit Kolten Wong (twice) and then Greg Garcia to open a ninth inning with a four-run lead.
St. Louis tried to come back at them with what would have been the most rewarding sort of retaliation -- a win -- but was instead left to lament a second straight loss, 5-4, to the Cubs and boil over the circumstances that have ignited a long-time rivalry.
"Something good almost happened today," manager Mike Matheny said afterward. "That would have been maybe my favorite win ever, just watching how our guys respond to whatever comes at them."
A chance to clinch a postseason berth without relying on another team's loss was within the Cardinals' grasp as they showed more offensive life in Saturday's ninth inning than they have since arriving in Chicago. Hector Rondon sparked it when he plunked the pinch-hitting Garcia, one inning after Fernando Rodney struck Wong with a 96-mph fastball. Wong, who had been hit in the sixth inning as well, walked deliberately to first base as home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman issued warnings to both teams.
That, as Dreckman later explained to Rondon, necessitated that he eject the Cubs' closer. Maddon was tossed, as well.
Instead, it went down as a game-concluding force play.
"I know how athletic a shortstop he is," Piscotty said. "Tip your hat, he made a great play."
Still simmering afterward, the Cardinals took an anti-Maddon approach when asked about the three hit batsmen. But what they may not have offered with words was nonetheless apparent in their tone.
"I don't want to talk today," said Wong, never one to dodge the media.
Both Piscotty and Carpenter said they had "no comment" on all the extracurricular happenings, with Carpenter merely describing it as a "very intense game."
Matheny, who deflected several pregame questions related to Maddon's pointed comments from a day earlier, echoed those same thoughts after the loss.
"Like I said before the game, you guys can keep coming at this as many times and from as many directions as you'd like, and you're going to get the same answer," he said. "We do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. That's not my responsibility. My responsibility is to these guys and it's going to stay that way."
The fight shown in that final inning is what the Cardinals hope rolls over to Sunday's series finale. Whether anything else does remains to be seen.
"There is plenty of drama," Matheny said. "It's out there, and I get it. But not for us. This one hurts just like the last one hurt. It's just too fresh right now, because that was a great effort to get us right at the door. I admire how these guys fight. That's something they're not going to lose, and it's going to pay off for us in the long run."