ST. LOUIS -- All right-hander Jason Hammel could do was shake his head. With a win on Tuesday night, the Cubs could have trimmed their magic number to clinch the National League Central to one, but Hammel served up a pair of two-run homers, which was all the Cardinals needed to hand the Cubs a 4-2 loss.
In his last six starts, Hammel has given up 22 earned runs and seven home runs over 30 innings, and is 2-4 with a 6.60 ERA in that stretch.
"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. I don't know what else to say."
All the Cubs could do was prep for one more game against the Cardinals on Wednesday. A win on Thursday would allow them to celebrate at Wrigley Field.
"I don't think anyone cares [where]," said Dexter Fowler, who opened the scoring on Tuesday with a leadoff homer. "It's going to happen. It's just a matter of when. We have to go out and keep winning games."
They'll need to deliver in the clutch if they want to do that. The Cubs had the bases loaded and two outs in the second and again in the fourth, and could not drive in a run.
"We had opportunities," Hammel said. "The game is not going to wait up and give you any breaks. Move on to tomorrow."
"We had guys on base all night," 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."
The Cardinals had homers, too. Aledmys Diaz connected on a Hammel fastball that came back over the plate with one on and two outs in the second. St. Louis had the same situation in the sixth, and Brandon Moss smashed a 1-0 pitch into the right-field seats to break a 2-2 tie.
"I felt I made my pitch," Hammel said of the Moss at-bat. "It just left the yard. I have to figure out how to get the ball on the ground."
The Cardinals, who are still in the mix for a Wild Card berth, don't have to watch the Cubs celebrate now.
"We've played this team all year, and have competed against this team all year, and they never back down from the challenge," Addison Russell said of St. Louis. "You have to tip your cap -- that's a great team over there."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.