Cardinals fall 5-4 against Cubs, but clinch playoff spot
CHICAGO (AP) — The third hit batter got the Cardinals mad at the Cubs.
They fell just short of getting even, but at least got a playoff berth Saturday.
Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant hit back-to-back homers, and tempers flared for the second straight game as Chicago held on to beat St. Louis 5-4 for its fifth straight win to tighten the NL Central race.
The Cardinals clinched a fifth consecutive postseason berth when the San Francisco Giants lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-0 later in the day.
Chicago is five games behind first-place St. Louis, which got a two-run homer from Matt Carpenter in the ninth. The Cubs entered the contest one game behind Pittsburgh for the top NL wild-card spot.
After Cubs closer Hector Rondon plunked pinch-hitter Greg Garcia to lead off the ninth with Chicago leading 5-1, both he and manager Joe Maddon were ejected.
“Obviously, we’re not trying to do that right there,” Maddon said.
Rondon hitting Garcia nearly sparked a St. Louis comeback.
Carpenter homered off Zac Rosscup to cut it to 5-3. Tommy Pham and Jason Heyward followed with singles, but Pedro Strop got the final three outs — including a sac fly by Yadier Molina that trimmed it to 5-4— for his third save.
“It was a very intense game,” Carpenter said. “But you know what? Every game from here on out is going be an intense game.
“We had a nice little ride there at the end. It just came up a little short.”
Shortstop Addison Russell ended it by diving up the middle to grab Stephen Piscotty’s grounder and flipped to second to force out Heyward.
“That was a base hit the moment it left the bat,” Maddon said. ”(Russell) just willed his glove on the ball at the end of it.”
After St. Louis’ Kolten Wong was hit for a second time in the eighth, plate umpire Bruce Dreckman issued a warning.
“Every loss stings — I get it — there’s plenty of drama and it’s out there,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Something really good almost happened today. That would have been maybe my favorite win ever.”
But the Cubs escaped with their second win in two days against their NL Central rival. Chicago has won four of five against St. Louis over the last two weeks.
Bryant’s drive against the wind and into the last row of the left field bleachers gave him 25 homers and tied the Cubs record for a rookie set by Billy Williams in 1961. Bryant, who sparkled at third base, also drove in a run with a double and scored in the first as he went 2 for 3 with a walk.
“He’s been outstanding,” Maddon said. “Great defense, wonderful hitting, one of the best baserunners in the National League already.
“He is the rookie of the year.”
Soler went deep for the first time since missing 23 games with a left oblique strain. Starlin Castro, who had six RBIs on Friday, and Tommy La Stella also drove in runs for Chicago.
Maddon used eight pitchers in a patchwork effort to cover for an empty spot in Chicago’s rotation. The second pitcher, Trevor Cahill (1-3), entered with two outs in the third and earned his first win with the Cubs by pitching 3 1-3 scoreless innings.
Michael Wacha (16-6) had won five of his previous six decisions, but gave up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings.
Maddon’s ejection came after the manager called the Cardinals a “vigilante group” Friday night. He was upset when Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was hit with a pitch by Matt Belisle in Chicago’s 8-3 win. Dan Haren had hit Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday in the head with a pitch in the fifth.
Rizzo has been hit by a pitch an MLB-leading 29 times this season. He also leads the Cubs with 30 homers.
“It (being hit by a pitch) is part of the game,” Rizzo said. “It’s what teams do. I’m used to getting hit — one more and I’m 30-30.”
Cardinals: OF Matt Holliday suffered only a bruise when he was hit by Haren, Matheny said. But Holliday continues to improve slowly from a right quadriceps strain that sidelined him for 41 games. He ran the bases before Saturday’s game, but was available only off the bench. “We’ve had some significant steps forward and times where we’ve just had to pause until more healing happens,” Matheny said. ... C Yadier Molina started Saturday after being rested for two games.
Cubs: Soler was back in the starting lineup in right field for the first time since going on the DL on Aug. 24 and batted second. He struck out Friday as a pinch hitter in his first appearance since returning.
St. Louis RHP Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.02) faces LHP Jon Lester (10-10, 3.38) in the series finale on Sunday. Martinez hasn’t won since Aug. 27 and is 0-1 with two no-decisions in his last three starts. Lester is coming off his first complete game as a Cub, a 2-1, five-hit gem at Pittsburgh last Tuesday.