CHICAGO -- The first team to clinch a postseason berth, the Cardinals asserted themselves against the Cubs with a 4-3 victory Sunday in front of 40,962, and avoided being swept at Wrigley Field for the first time since 2006.
Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty both homered in the first inning against Jon Lester in the final regular-season meeting between the two National League Central rivals. On Saturday, the Cardinals lost to the Cubs but secured a playoff spot by virtue of the Giants' loss to the D-backs. It's the Cardinals' record fifth consecutive trip to the postseason.
"I thought our guys came out of the box today ready to continue what they started late in the game last night," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I sensed an edge. There's no doubt. They left here with an edge, and they showed up this morning with an edge. They responded perfectly, just how I hoped they would."
After the win, Matheny gathered his players and staff, congratulating them for locking down at least a spot in the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser, but also urging them to keep pushing toward a third straight division title.
"We're excited about it," closer Trevor Rosenthal said of advancing to the postseason again. "It's not something we're going to take for granted. Obviously, we would love to win the division and bypass the Wild Card Game, but getting in any way we can is special."
The Cubs, on the other hand, are trying to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and they are two games behind the Pirates for the top NL Wild Card spot. Lester took the loss, which was the first by a Cubs starter in the last 17 games.
"They win, give them credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals, who took the season series, 11-8, and lead the NL Central by four and six games over the Pirates and Cubs, respectively. "They're very good. But I think now we know we can beat them and they know we can beat them, too, and that's a good thing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Eighth-inning escape: With the Cardinals in a bases-loaded, no-out mess in the eighth, Matheny called on double-play specialist Seth Maness to help wiggle out of it and preserve a one-run lead. Maness got his twin killing, but with a huge assist from right fielder Jason Heyward, whose rocket home on Addison Russell's fly ball was in time for catcher Yadier Molina to put a swipe tag on Anthony Rizzo. Rosenthal closed out the inning with a strikeout of Miguel Montero en route to his first four-out save since June 13. This save was Rosenthal's 46th of the season, a new career high and one off the franchise record. More >
Heyward was asked afterward if it was one of the best throws of his career.
"It's the only one I care about right now," he answered. "I feel like I've made some good throws, but it was a great one right there to keep the game from being tied up. That killed some momentum for them, and then our pitchers being able to get out of that inning was awesome."
Making peace: The Cubs had two on and two outs in the third when Carlos Martinez threw what he thought was strike three to Chris Coghlan. Martinez came off the mound and dropped to his knees as if in disbelief at the call. He ended up walking Coghlan to load the bases, and Rizzo then smacked a two-run single. When the inning ended, Martinez made a point of going to home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez to apologize.
"I told him, 'I'm sorry about what I did earlier in the inning,'" Martinez later explained through a translator. "I got excited when I saw the pitch there, so that's why I acted like that. I came to the umpire to apologize."
Rookie revival: Seeking to carry over the momentum of a feisty ninth-inning comeback attempt on Saturday, the Cardinals struck quickly in the series finale. Home runs by rookie outfielders Pham and Piscotty gave the Cards their first three-run first inning since Aug. 30. Pham's homer was his fourth of the road trip, while Piscotty's two-run blast came in his first at-bat since being robbed by Russell's terrific defensive play to end Saturday's game. More >
Glovework: The crowd booed when Molina collided with Russell at second base in the second inning, but Molina made a point of giving the rookie shortstop a pat on the back. One batter later, Russell showed no ill effects when he handled catcher David Ross' throw at second to get Brandon Moss on an attempted steal. Russell did an acrobatic leap over Moss, and still made the tag. Russell also took out the lineup card before the game.
"He said, 'I'm sorry, my bad,'" Russell said. "I think that's a clean play anyways. I didn't get hurt, he didn't get hurt. No hard feelings."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Quintin Berry was caught stealing by Cardinals catcher Tony Cruz in the ninth, it was the first time he had been caught in his career in 26 attempts.
"He throws out a burner," Matheny said. "Right on the money. ... Great job of staying ready. That's something we can say about Tony all season long. Whenever an opportunity comes up, he's ready for it."
Molina suffered a left thumb sprain during the eighth-inning play at the plate. After taking the throw from Heyward, Molina had his glove hand knocked into by Rizzo's foot. He convinced the Cardinals to let him finish the inning behind the plate, but was removed for a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Molina will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury. More >
Six batters were hit by a pitch in the first two games of the series, and Sunday's game was peaceful until the seventh, when the Cubs challenged that Starlin Castro was hit by a pitch by Martinez. Castro felt Martinez's pitch hit him in the right forearm. After a review, it was determined Castro was correct.
In the ninth, Jhonny Peralta was called safe at first after hitting a grounder to third baseman Tommy La Stella. The Cubs challenged the call, saying Rizzo had his foot on the bag. After review, the call stood.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals will open their final homestand of the season on Monday when the Reds come to town for the start of a three-game series. Jaime Garcia, who was outdueled by rookie John Lamb on Sept. 10, will match up against the Reds lefty again in the series opener. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT.
Cubs:Jason Hammel will open the Cubs' series against the Brewers on Monday. He has a 2.59 ERA in four starts against the Brewers this season, and is 7-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career starts against them. However, Hammel has a 5.81 ERA in his last 10 starts. First pitch at Wrigley Field is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.