ST. LOUIS -- It'll likely be only a matter of days before the Cubs wrap up the inevitable and officially secure the National League Central crown. That celebration, however, will be one the defending division champs won't have to watch.
Boosted to a 4-2 win by homers from Brandon Moss and Aledmys Diaz at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, the Cardinals ensured that the Cubs' champagne will remain on ice for the duration of their stay. With Chicago's magic number stuck on three, the earliest the Cubs can clinch a division title is Thursday.
"It's inevitable at this point," Chicago's Dexter Fowler said. "It's just a matter of when."
For the Cardinals, though, this victory wasn't merely about delaying the Cubs' uncorking. More important, this was a win critical to keeping up in the Wild Card race. The Cardinals remain a half-game behind the Mets, who defeated the Nationals in Washington, for the second Wild Card spot.
Starting with Fowler's leadoff homer, the Cubs jumped out to a two-run lead that initiated the early exit of struggling Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pulled Garcia with the bases loaded in the second inning, preferring to put the game into the hands of rookie right-hander Alex Reyes. Reyes struck out Kris Bryant to end that frame.
"We were up against a wall," Matheny said. "That was a swing point of that game, and Alex did something special to keep us in it. I'm not sure there can be a more stressful situation for a young pitcher."
Reyes had his own issues -- he walked six over 4 1/3 innings -- but did not allow a run, and twice he stranded the bases full.
"I was kind of all over the place," said Reyes, who threw 85 pitches, 43 for strikes. "But at the end of the day, what's important is giving your team a chance to win by putting zeros on the board."
In holding down the Cubs' offense, Reyes bought time for the Cardinals to mount their 26th come-from-behind victory of the season. Moss, who entered the game with one hit in his previous 41 at-bats, was at the center of it. He extended the second with a single, which put him on base when Diaz blasted his first home run since returning from the disabled list. Moss then connected for a two-out homer of his own off Cubs starter Jason Hammel to put the Cardinals ahead in the sixth.
"A great feeling," Moss said of his sixth tie-breaking homer of the season. "It's a big game, especially for us, and kind of a big moment. Just to be able to contribute felt good."
"We've played this team all year and have competed against this team all year, and they never back down from the challenge," Chicago's Addison Russell said. "We definitely expected that. You have to tip your cap. That's a great team over there."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Quick hook: Unwilling to let the game get out of hand under Garcia's watch, Matheny yanked the lefty after he walked Fowler to load the bases with two out in the second. It marked the first time in Garcia's 145 career starts that he did not finish two innings. Garcia entered the game with an 8.06 ERA over his previous five starts.
"I was disappointed in myself," Garcia said. "But in the end, it worked out for my team. We needed a win here, and Reyes did an unbelievable job. The biggest thing is we won the game, but for me, I was very disappointed. It's not the end of the world for me. I'm going to continue to figure out what it is I need to do and continue to work."
Start me up: Hammel was coming off a rough outing against the Brewers in which he gave up a season-high 13 hits over 5 2/3 innings. The Cardinals totaled six off the right-hander over 5 2/3 innings, including a pair of two-run homers. He continued to have trouble on the road. In his last six starts away from Wrigley Field, he's 1-5 with an 11.42 ERA and has served up 13 home runs over 26 innings.
"It seems like every time I give up a run, it leaves the yard," Hammel said. "I'd like to give up a double or something that drives in a run sometime. It's very frustrating. I felt like I pitched pretty well." More >
Remember me? Diaz made an instant impact in his first start since July 31. With his fractured right thumb healed, the rookie shortstop delivered a game-tying two-run homer in the second. The home run was Diaz's 15th of the season, making him the seventh Cards player to reach that benchmark. Only one other time in franchise history (2000) have the Cardinals featured seven players with at least 15 homers.
"Oh my gosh. That changed everything," Moss said of Diaz's homer. "It just felt like new life was breathed into us right there. I think as soon as he did that, we knew we were going to win that game."
You go, we go: Fowler was 0-for-19 in a four-game skid but has picked up the pace since then, going 6-for-15 with two home runs, including a leadoff blast on Tuesday. It was his 21st career leadoff homer and seventh this year. But that wasn't enough, as the Cubs couldn't deliver with runners on base and stranded 10.
"We had guys on base all night," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "At the end of the night, you look at the homers, but we had many opportunities to score, and we didn't."
"I think it will be a little more special that way [to clinch at Wrigley Field]. With the season we're having, and how many Cubs fans there are who support us, I think it would be pretty good justice right there." -- Russell, on the Cubs now having a chance to clinch at home
"We'll see." -- Matheny, when asked if Garcia would make his next scheduled start in five days
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Reyes became the fifth pitcher in franchise history to issue six walks and not allow a run in relief. It hadn't happened since Billy Muffett did the same in a May 28, 1958, appearance against the Milwaukee Braves.
Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh remains sidelined by a sore groin, which is why Matheny had to call upon lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist for Tuesday's save opportunity. Siegrist nailed down his second save with a clean ninth to wrap up a stellar night from the 'pen. In between Reyes' scoreless stretch and Siegrist's save, Matt Bowman retired all six batters he faced.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jon Lester will close the series on Wednesday. The lefty is 6-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last eight starts, and he has 23 quality starts in 28 games so far. First pitch is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium.
Cardinals: The Cardinals' penultimate homestand will come to an end with Wednesday's game against the Cubs at 12:45 p.m. CT. Carlos Martinez, who has allowed two earned runs or fewer in his last five starts, draws the start. He has a career 4.71 ERA against the Cubs in 17 appearances.