CHICAGO -- For the first time in the history of Wrigley Field, the Cubs clinched a postseason series at home, edging the mighty Cardinals, 6-4, in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. The Cubs now can party as they wait to see whether they'll face the Mets or the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, which opens on Saturday.
"We beat the Cardinals -- these guys are like our older brothers and they've been kicking sand in our face for 100 years," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "There's a lot of similarities to when [the Red Sox] knocked off the Yankees in '04. This one just gives us a nice date on Saturday."
Javier Baez joined the young Cubs power corps with a three-run home run, Anthony Rizzo delivered a tiebreaking solo shot with two outs in the sixth and Kyle Schwarber nearly reached Lake Michigan with a leadoff blast in the seventh to spark Chicago to victory and a 3-1 Series win. Despite posting the best record in baseball, St. Louis, which had reached the NLCS the last four years in a row, now heads home.
"It's disappointing," said Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, whose comeback season ended with two scoreless innings in relief on Tuesday. "We don't set our sights in Spring Training for getting in the postseason just [to] go home in the first round. That's never what we aspire to do or be. It's painful when you lose, for sure. I can't get away from all the things we overcame this year to even get here. But losing is losing. It's never easy. There's nothing we can do. We have no regrets. We absolutely went about this thing the right way. We left it all on the line, and we got beat."
Baez was filling in for injured shortstop Addison Russell, and all manager Joe Maddon wanted was solid glove work from the 22-year-old. Baez added some punch as the Cubs became the first team in postseason history to have four players 23 or younger hit home runs, joining Kris Bryant, Schwarber and Jorge Soler, who each connected on Monday in Game 3. Baez's blast came off Cardinals right-hander John Lackey, who was starting on short rest in the postseason for the third time in his career.
"He hit a tough pitch, especially that time of the day with the shadows," Bryant said of Baez's blast. "I couldn't see the ball my first at-bat and he goes up there and hits a three-run homer."
Rizzo's home run came off an 0-2 pitch from Kevin Siegrist, and was his second in as many games against the Cardinals' lefty. Rizzo is the first player in Cubs postseason history to smack a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning or later of a series-clinching game.
"You can't pitch like that in the postseason," said Siegrist, who had kept Rizzo without an extra-base hit in 22 regular-season plate appearances. "There's no excuse for that. I'll learn from it. I'll be better next year for it."
This was only the third time the Cubs have won consecutive postseason games at home. They also did so in 1907 in the World Series against the Tigers and again in 1984 against the Padres in the NLCS. Chicago entered this postseason 0-11 all time in any series in which they lost Game 1.
"This is a team that was as impressive to watch from Day One as any team I've ever been around, and just a collection of skill and fight and character and just all the way across the board from the veteran guys leading to the young guys figuring out a way to contribute," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was a special group."
Both starting pitchers -- the Cubs' Jason Hammel and Lackey -- completed just three innings, and this marked the second time a team has clinched an NLDS in which the starter hasn't completed more than three innings. Wainwright exited after 2 1/3 innings in 2012 as the Cards defeated the Nationals in Game 5.
Chicago scored 14 runs combined in Games 3-4, and all but one came on a home run. The other was courtesy of pitcher Hammel's RBI single in the second inning of Game 4.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Midas touch: It seemed Hammel was on a short leash as Maddon had Justin Grimm warming up in the top of the second inning, and Grimm continued to throw in the 'pen in the bottom half of the frame. But rather than lift Hammel for a pinch-hitter with two on and two outs, Maddon stuck with the pitcher, a .169 batter, and Hammel delivered an RBI single. Baez then followed with his opposite-field three-run homer. More >
How close was Maddon to pinch-hitting for Hammel?
"Real close," Maddon said. "If the bases would have been loaded it would have been [Tommy] La Stella. The fact it was first and second and 'Hammer,' he can handle the bat pretty well, which he showed you with a base hit to center field, but it was pretty close."
Looking Grimm: Grimm squashed a potential fourth-inning rally for the Cardinals after they chased Hammel from his start. After Jhonny Peralta drew a leadoff walk, Maddon turned to Grimm, and Randal Grichuk reached on a Bryant fielding error. Kolten Wong, Tony Cruz and pinch-hitter Tommy Pham went down swinging. Pham hit for Lackey, thereby ending his day after three innings and 49 pitches.
"You know, there are a lot of things going in a good direction for that team," Matheny said of the Cubs. "You've got a lot of talent, no question. You had some pitching that stepped up tremendously, and everybody kind of finding their role and some of the younger guys kind of taking those big roles."
Penmanship: The Cubs' pitching staff finished with 48 strikeouts in the four-game series, and the 15 on Tuesday set a postseason franchise record, surpassing 14 in Game 1 of the 2003 NLDS against the Braves. Grimm, making his first postseason appearance, accounted for three of those K's in the fourth. More >
"We've been talking for the last 10 days how good [Grimm] is and how great of a year he's had -- all of them, we've had the same conversations with Travis Wood, Hector Rondon, [Pedro Strop]," Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "There's peaks and valleys in every season. These guys are stepping up at the right time."
Powerful Piscotty: Before the Cubs plated four runs on two pitches, the Cardinals opened the game with two runs on four pitches. Stephen Piscotty followed a Matt Carpenter leadoff single with a blast that Statcast™ tracked to have traveled a projected 407 feet with an exit velocity of 109 mph off Piscotty's bat. With the home run, Piscotty set a Cardinals Division Series rookie record with six RBIs. He also joins Charlie Keller (1939 World Series) as the only rookies to hit three home runs in their first four postseason games. More >
"It was a good start to the game," Piscotty said. "Two runs though, I didn't think that would be enough. We knew we needed more. … It was a lot of fun. I got a taste of it now, and I just want more and more of it."
"The celebration in this room is about the players and Joe, but the fact is, the fans, all these years -- and I don't mean like 1908, but the last few years where we've said we've got to do it the right way, and it'll take time, and please hang with us and believe in us, and they have. Tonight, to give a little bit of that back is incredible. Now we have to win two more series to give it all back." -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts
"I think we've said this in the past, even when we were having deep runs in October -- there is some luck. You need some things to go right. For us, it just wasn't meant to be. But you can't take anything away from this season as a whole. To accomplish 100 wins the way we did it, with the adversity involved, I think everybody in here should be proud of the year they had." -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With Tuesday's outing, Lackey now leads active pitchers with 20 postseason starts. But this one, which lasted just three innings, was the shortest of the bunch. Baez also snapped a string of 12 straight postseason appearances for Lackey in which he did not allow a home run.
INJURY REPORT Yadier Molina, whose lingering left thumb injury kept him from appearing in Game 4, said after the loss that he is scheduled to meet with a hand doctor on Wednesday to determine if surgery will be needed. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: The Cubs will face the winner of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Mets. Maddon has yet to name his NLCS Game 1 starter, but it will come down to either Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester. Game 1 will be Saturday, and all the Cubs know is they will be the road team.