ST. LOUIS -- Albert Almora Jr. wanted to give his mother a birthday present by hitting a home run. Instead, he made a perfectly timed catch at the center-field wall to stop a potential game-tying shot on Tuesday night and help preserve the Cubs' 2-1 win over the Cardinals.
"I told her, 'I didn't hit you one, but I robbed you one,'" Almora said. "I love playing defense and I love helping out my team."
With the Cubs leading, 2-1, and one out in the seventh, the Cardinals' Matt Adams launched a fly ball to straightaway center. Almora jumped at the wall to snare the ball and rob Adams of a potential home run.
"The moment of the night was when I came in and [Jake Arrieta] gave me a big hug," Almora said. "That's awesome."
Almora's catch -- and several other defensive plays by the Cubs -- helped preserve the win for Arrieta and even Chicago's record at 1-1. Matt Carpenter, who Jason Heyward robbed of a potential extra-base hit in the sixth, actually helped Almora.
"I thought [Adams' ball] 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."
Who told him that?
"When I got to first base, me and Matt Carpenter were talking," Almora said. "He said, 'You have to square it up to hit it out of here in that area.' I took that to the field and that worked."
Almora hadn't really tested the wall, either. He did jump against it before Sunday night's game during batting practice.
"Most of it is luck," Almora said. "It fell in my glove this time."
Adams thought he'd notched his first home run of the season.
"It felt good off the bat, but the wind is blowing in tonight," Adams said. "Almora made a great catch. I put a good swing on it. That's all I could do from there."
In the Statcast™ era, that exact combination of exit velocity (106 mph) and launch angle (34 degrees) has produced a home run more than 90 percent of the time.
Heyward's catch was more difficult because Carpenter's ball was a line drive to right, and the Cubs right fielder had to run to get it.
"When [Heyward] made that play, I looked at everybody, infield, outfield, and everybody was super pumped up," Almora said. "We don't need it just offensively, we need it defensively. It's a complete game."
Defense is on manager Joe Maddon's mind. That's why one of the T-shirts he gave players this spring said: "D-peat."
"I saw Jim Edmonds before the game, and I said, 'Almora reminds me of you,'" Maddon said. "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."
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.