ST. LOUIS -- Seeking to delay the Cubs' clinch celebration while increasing the chances of extending their own season, the Cardinals built an early lead at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night and held on for an 8-7 victory that postponed any popping of champagne bottles for at least another day.
Not only were the Cubs unable to wrap up their second consecutive division title with a seventh straight win over the Cardinals, but they also couldn't get any help from the Reds. The Brewers grabbed a 7-6 victory over Cincinnati to ensure the Cubs' magic number remained at one.
For the Cardinals, the win wasn't merely about spoiling a rival's celebration plans. It was also a necessary one. With the Rockies and Brewers earning victories on Tuesday, the Cardinals needed to snap a three-game losing streak to remain within 2 1/2 games of the second National League Wild Card. St. Louis has five games remaining on its regular-season schedule.
"You could certainly show up today flat and roll over and let them have their way with you," said first baseman Matt Carpenter, whose leadoff home run ensured the Cardinals they wouldn't trail all night. "Or you could come out like we did and send a message that, 'Hey, we're not going to just give this to you.' That being said, you have to give credit to them. They never quit either. It was a grind just to find a way to win today. But that's what games are like in September. Both teams are playing for something, and certainly they're going to fight to the end."
In his second start since returning from a hamstring injury, Arrieta labored over a 67-pitch, three-inning start. Home runs by Carpenter and Tommy Pham helped St. Louis build a 5-1 lead by the end of the second.
But the Cardinals hardly coasted from there.
Starter Carlos Martinez allowed the Cubs to chip away with runs in the second, third and fourth before he exited with one out in the fifth. It was Martinez's shortest start of the season, but also a gutsy one. Twice he stranded the bases loaded, including the fourth inning, during which a catcher's interference call cost him two outs.
"Amazing right there in that situation to get out of it with one run," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Martinez's escape act. "That's another big point in our game."
The Cubs left 10 on base, went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 15 times in the game, which certainly didn't help their offense.
"The thing that got us were the punchouts," Maddon said. "We've been working to get away from that. That was the difference in the game, not putting the ball in play."
Solo homers by Jedd Gyorko and Randal Grichuk in the seventh then gave the Cardinals a five-run cushion they would need every bit of. Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward blasted a three-run homer an inning later, and Ben Zobrist pulled Chicago to within one when he connected for his 12th homer of the season. Juan Nicasio, summoned for the four-out save, stranded the potential tying run at second to close the frame.
Nicasio then worked around two ninth-inning walks to seal the Cardinals' fifth victory in 17 tries against the Cubs this season. Four of those wins have come in games started by Martinez.
"I knew I was going to have to come in and pitch with heart, to try to get those [four] outs," Nicasio said. "I'm going to try to do my best to help these guys have a chance to go to the playoffs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Turn two, get none: Martinez's start at Wrigley Field earlier this month unraveled when he misfired while trying to start a double play with the bases loaded. He got the chance for a redo on Tuesday. With the bases full and nobody out in the fourth, Martinez induced a weak grounder back to himself off the bat of pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella. Martinez made the on-target throw home, and catcher Carson Kelly threw to first for the second out -- only to learn that the Cardinals would be credited with neither.
Kelly was called for catcher's interference -- his mitt made contact with La Stella's bat -- meaning the run counted and La Stella was awarded a base and Kyle Schwarber scored from third to make it 5-3.
"I just got a little close to him, reached out. It was a mistake on my part," Kelly said. "Everybody was a little confused. But at the end of it, I knew it was a mistake that I made."
Martinez, however, quickly regained his composure, notched back-to-back strikeouts, and then retired Anthony Rizzo to strand the bases full and preserve a two-run lead.
"That was a turning point in regards to them having a better chance to win the game," Maddon said of how the Cardinals escaped in the fourth. "That was a seminal moment in the game."
Fruitful first: A night after the Cubs pounced for four first-inning runs, it was the Cardinals who seized the early lead. Carpenter, 1-for-32 in his career against Arrieta, opened the first with a homer off his former college teammate. The damage would have stopped there had shortstop Mike Freeman not then bobbled a routine grounder with two out. His error allowed Dexter Fowler to score from third and brought the inning to Grichuk, who delivered an RBI triple. It took Arrieta 35 pitches to get through the frame.
"Things just weren't working sharpness-wise," Maddon said of Arrieta. "I didn't see anything overtly crisp, velocity or location or anything. It was not his night. We made a mistake [with Freeman's error], but they hit the ball pretty good against him."
"Exhausting. It's exhausting." -- Kelly, on being behind the plate for a three-hour, 46-minute game with so much at stake
"These guys are going to make it as tough as possible on us, as we expect. We have to do our best to take care of business tomorrow, and then we'll see what happens." -- Arrieta, on the Cardinals
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With Tuesday's victory, Matheny became the first manager in franchise history to begin his career with six consecutive winning seasons.
• Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. had to leave the game in the fifth inning after he crashed into the outfield wall trying to catch Paul DeJong's fly ball. Almora suffered a contusion to his right shoulder in the rotator cuff area. X-rays were negative. He was able to walk off under his own power.
"I tried to cut [the ball] off before it hit the wall, and when I went to slide I noticed I wasn't going to get to it, and when I looked up the wall was right on me," Almora said. "There was no slowing down. Luckily, nothing's broken, nothing's damaged. All good." More >
• Pham had to be replaced by a pinch-hitter in the eighth, two innings after being hit in the ribs by a 95-mph fastball. Pham was diagnosed with a left side contusion, but the Cardinals are optimistic that he'll be ready to return on Wednesday. More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals used their challenge in the third inning, contesting that Freeman had his hand on the foot of DeJong (not the base) when Martinez made a snap throw to second. Without enough evidence to change the safe call, it stood after a two-minute, 34-second review. Freeman scored later in the inning on a two-out, bases-loaded walk.
Freeman was at the center of a fourth-inning challenge, too -- this one by the Cubs. Initially ruled out when he tried to beat a throw with a headfirst slide into first, Freeman was awarded the infield single following a 44-second review.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: Wednesday may be John Lackey's last regular-season start for the Cubs. The 38-year-old right-hander will be a free agent after this season. This will be Lackey's fourth start of the year against the Cardinals. So far, he's 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA. First pitch is scheduled for 6:08 p.m. CT from Busch Stadium.
Cardinals:Michael Wacha entered the season eager to silence those who questioned his durability. He can consider that done as he makes his 30th -- and final -- start of the season. Wacha has a 2.61 ERA over his last five appearances.