ST. LOUIS -- Ignited by another electric outing from Carlos Martinez and intentional aggressiveness on the basepaths, the Cardinals, in front of the largest crowd (47,882) in Busch Stadium III history, knocked the Cubs back to .500 with a 5-3 win on Saturday.
Martinez was a dual threat once again, tallying both his second consecutive multi-hit game and quality start. The ending was abrupt -- Cubs No. 2 prospect Ian Happ highlighted his Major League debut by taking Martinez deep for a two-run homer in the seventh -- but the afternoon was otherwise filled with highlights by Martinez. He struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings, limited Chicago to five hits and drove in the Cardinals' first run to win a rematch of his Opening Night start against Jon Lester.
"He did great," Jedd Gyorko said of Martinez. "That's a typical game for him -- pounding the zone, throwing it in there, working fast. A couple big at-bats, too. He pretty much did it all for us today."
Lester, coming off a 120-pitch effort last Sunday, had his day complicated by his own inability to hold runners on. The Cardinals ran freely against him and turned two steals into two runs to erase an early deficit. A solo home run by Gyorko and 6-for-9 day from the bottom third of the order helped the Cardinals even the series with their seventh win in eight games.
"We're going to run when we feel we have opportunities to run, regardless who it is," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Loved how the guys did their research. They had an idea of what they wanted to do when they got out there, and then tried to put it in motion when we gave them the freedom to do so. I thought it helped us today."
The Cubs nearly stunned the Cardinals in the ninth as Kyle Schwarber drove a pitch a Statcast-estimated 400 feet off Seung Hwan Oh. But what was nearly a game-tying home run was caught at the track by Dexter Fowler to end the game. Based on the exit velocity (105 mph) and launch angle (30 degrees), the ball had an 88 percent hit probability.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED A Happ-ening day: Kept from his first Major League hit by an official scorer's decision in the fifth, Happ tallied one that no one could dispute two innings later when he crushed a first-pitch changeup over the right-field wall to end Martinez's day and pull Chicago to within two. With the two-run blast, Happ became the first Cubs player to homer in his debut since Jorge Soler (2014). It may have also helped alleviate some of the disappointment from Happ's fifth-inning slide that was ruled as interference and cost the Cubs a run.
"He was never overwhelmed being here today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Happ, who started in right field. "He walked in, put his uniform on, went out there and kicked the bench and shook hands and hit a homer." More >
Sneak attack: Martinez, who had four RBIs in his last start, drove home the Cardinals' first run on a third-inning squeeze play. After Tommy Pham walked, swiped second and advanced 90 extra feet on Willson Contreras' throwing error, Martinez laid down a bunt that Lester could do nothing with. Pham scored the tying run, and after Lester essentially rolled the ball home, Martinez sprinted to second, where no Cubs defender was covering.
"I went to shovel it," Lester said. "I didn't get under the ball, I kind of just hit it even with the ball. I figured that was our only real chance [to make a play at home]."
Martinez is tied with R.A. Dickey for the most RBIs (five) by a pitcher this season.
"I really try to help myself at the plate, and thank God, that's what I've been able to do," Martinez said. "I got the green light from Matheny to execute the bunt, and everything turned out good."
"We're all frustrated. Nobody wants to [stink], nobody wants to lose. We're all a little frustrated. We're grinding and trying to figure out a way. We've got some guys banged up now. We've got illnesses, we've got freak back spasms, we've got everything. It's hard for our guys. We'll be fine and get a couple of these guys back and get it going a little bit." -- Lester, on the Cubs, who have lost six of their last eight games
"When you're playing these good teams, you have to have your A-game. A team like Chicago, we know how tough they play us. I want to contribute any chance I get." -- Pham, who had another multihit game, his fourth in eight games since being recalled from Triple-A
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Chicago's first run was driven in by Lester, who launched an RBI double off the center-field wall in the second. Though Lester has had such little career success as a hitter, he improved to 4-for-15 against Martinez with the hit. Against everyone else, Lester is 8-for-173.
The Cubs had runners at first and third with one out in the fifth. Anthony Rizzo hit a comebacker to Martinez, who threw to shortstop Aledmys Diaz covering at second to get Happ. The rookie slid under Diaz and past second base, and Happ was called out for slide interference. Maddon challenged the ruling, but after a review, the call was confirmed, and the inning ended with a double play.
"I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game," Maddon said. "That had a tremendous impact on today's game, where outs are rewarded based on a fabricated rule." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:Jake Arrieta will try to get back on track when he closes the series against the Cardinals on Sunday. The right-hander gave up five earned runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings in his last outing against the Rockies. First pitch is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. CT.
Cardinals:Adam Wainwright will move to 12th on the Cardinals' all-time list with his 328th career appearance in Sunday's series finale. The start will be his eighth this season, though he's been able to finish six innings just once so far. Wainwright's 13 wins against the Cubs are second-most among active pitchers.