ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs used a bloop and a bunt to scratch across a pair of early runs against Adam Wainwright, and then preserved that lead with a sensational catch by Albert Almora Jr. and another defensive highlight by Javier Baez to end the game by the narrowest of margins.
The defensive gems, which followed a strong season debut by Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, lifted the Cubs to a 2-1 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium that evened their season-opening series.
Almora scaled the wall to rob Matt Adams of what would likely have been a game-tying, seventh-inning home run. An inning earlier, the Cardinals had been unable to capitalize on a bases-loaded opportunity.
"The catch to rob the homer was a game saver," Arrieta said. "I owe Almora something for that."
"The moment of the night was when I came in and Jake gave me a big hug. That was awesome," Almora said. "The hug was fine."
A marquee pitching matchup between Wainwright and Arrieta started smoothly for both right-handers until Wainwright's fateful fourth. A one-out double and walk brought up Jason Heyward, whose bloop single fell just out of the reach of retreating shortstop Aledmys Diaz for an RBI single.
An ill-advised decision by left fielder Randal Grichuk to throw home on the play allowed Willson Contreras to advance to third. From there, he scored Javier Baez's sacrifice bunt. Wainwright, whose shovel pass home was too late to get the runner, threw 21 pitches in the frame and was out after five innings.
"I think the turning point in the game, obviously, their safety squeeze, I hesitated a bit to see if it was going to go foul and I should have just scooped it to him," Wainwright said. "That was my fault. But it was a good game. They have a good team over there. We have a good team here. It's going to be a good battle all year."
Arrieta opened his six-inning start by retiring 13 of the first 14 batters he faced. Two errors by Baez in one play helped the Cardinals to a fifth-inning run -- and knocked Stephen Piscotty out of the game -- but Arrieta rebounded to strand five runners over his final two innings.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Cards manager Mike Matheny challenged the final out of the game, a bang-bang play at first base involving Kolten Wong. Baez showed stellar range to stop Wong's grounder in shallow right field and recovered to make the throw to first as Wong hustled down the line. The call was confirmed after a review of one minute, nine seconds to seal Chicago's win.
"That was close to having two guys on and Adams walking to the plate with a couple guys that can really run, so that could have been real exciting," Matheny said. "Fraction away from having it happen, too."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Home run robbery: One of the reasons the Cubs like Almora is his defensive skills, and he showed why in the seventh. With the Cubs leading 2-1 and one out, Almora robbed Adams of a possible home run with a leaping catch at the center-field wall. In the Statcast™ era, that exact combination of exit velo (106 mph) and launch angle (34 degrees) has produced a home run more than 90 percent of the time.
"I thought it was deep gone," Almora said. "I heard that at Busch Stadium, the first couple months, [the ball] dies out there. I took that into consideration."
Strong finish: Arrieta closed his first start of the season by retiring Grichuk, the Cardinals' Opening Night hero, to strand the bases loaded. The Cardinals stirred with a pair of two-out singles, and pinch-hitter Greg Garcia followed with a walk. Arrieta got Grichuk to swing through a slider before inducing an infield popup on a changeup, his 90th pitch of the night. The inning may have been even more complicated, too, had Heyward not made a leaping grab on Matt Carpenter's sharp, one-out line drive to right. More >
Safety squeeze: The Cubs scored their second run on a beautifully executed safety squeeze by Baez that followed Heyward's run-scoring single. Wainwright rushed in to make a play, briefly hesitated, thinking the ball may spin foul, before he scooped and shoveled it home. Heyward narrowly beat the throw to put the Cubs ahead, 2-0.
"I [told Jim Edmonds], 'Almora reminds me of you.' I hope [Edmonds] stuck around to see that play. Jimmy wasn't the fastest guy, Albert's not the fastest guy. They both ran great routes and they had a great nose, instinct for the ball, when to jump, when to get to the wall, how to get to the wall." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon
"It felt a little bit different, the depth perception for sure. But I felt pretty good out there. Once that first one came out to me, I settled down a little bit." -- Adams, on making his debut as a left fielder
Cardinals right fielder Piscotty was knocked out of the game after being hit three times while rounding the bases to score the team's first run. He reached when hit on the right elbow by a pitch, took a throw off his left elbow advancing on a wild pitch and then was struck in the head by another throw as he sprinted home from second on an infield single and error by second baseman Baez. Piscotty exited the game with a head contusion and was to undergo a round of concussion tests.
"We won't jump to any conclusions, but he seems to be doing OK," Matheny said. "He seems to feel fine. Those are all good signs. But he has to pass the tests. We'll find out a little bit more tonight, a little bit more [Wednesday] morning." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:John Lackey likes pitching at Busch Stadium, and is scheduled to close this series Thursday, after Wednesday's game was postponed due to weather. He's 12-4 with a 2.02 ERA in 24 career starts at Busch. First pitch of the rubber game is scheduled for 12:45 p.m. CT.
Cardinals:Lance Lynn, who spent last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, will make his first appearance since October 2015 as he closes out the Cardinals' first season series. Lynn posted a 1.20 ERA over 15 innings in Grapefruit League play.
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.