September 20, 2015

Pham, PIscotty go long on Lester early, Heyward, Molina, Cruz, hold off Cubs late

CHICAGO--WRIGLEY FIELD--Even though the St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball at 93-56, they had all they could do to pull out a one-run win over the Chicago Cubs to avoid a sweep at Wrigley Field Sunday afternoon.

It was the Cardinals newcomers, Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty, who took veteran Cubs' starter, Jon Lester (10-11), long in the first inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead.

Spectators at the top of the left field bleachers could only peer upward at the Pham blast that landed somewhere on Waveland Avenue on Chicago's north side, his fifth home run of the season.

Piscotty took his homer to center field, a two-run shot and his fifth of the season.

A Jhonny Peralta grounder found its way into left field in the third inning, bringing home Matt Carpenter who had led off the inning with a double to right field, then felt stranded after a couple Cards' K's.

The Cubs answered in the bottom of the third on a two-out bases loaded single to the left side, scoring both Lester and Dexter Fowler, putting Chicago on the scoreboard, down 4-2.

The score remained so until the bottom of the eighth when Cardinals' reliever, Jhonathan Broxton, threw a no outs, bases-loaded walk to Tommy La Stella, who leads the National League in strikeouts, bringing the Cubs within a run at 4-3. Cards' manager, Mike Matheny, replaced Broxton with Seth Maness, a double-play throwing reliever by nature.

Maness tossed a double-play, but not the usual middle infielder to first baseman variety. Instead Addison Russell flew out to right fielder Jason Heyward, who gunned a one-hopper to catcher Yadier Molina, who in turn tagged out a sliding Anthony Rizzo, who had tagged up and attempted to score from third base on the play.

Molina appeared to injure his left wrist or hand on the tag play when the foot of a sliding Rizzo impacted Molina's tagging glove hand. As of the time of this post, the status of Molina's potential injury is unknown. Tony Cruz replaced the veteran catcher after the end of the inning.

Trevor Rosenthal, however, entered for Maness, throwing 100 m.p.h. fastballs and striking out Miguel Montero to get the Cards clear of the eighth inning.

Chicago's Starlin Castro singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth against Rosenthal, who remained in the game to attempt a close. The Cubs, with Molina on the bench, went right after Cardinals' catcher, Tony Cruz, Castro attempting to steal with no outs, trying to get into scoring position as the tying run. Cruz threw a strike to Kolten Wong covering second base, a quick slap tag getting Castro.

Rosenthal, now with the tying run backed up to the batter, struck out Jorge Solar, then got Kyle Schwarber to ground out to short, notching his 46th save.

Carlos Martinez (14-7) earned the victory, 6 2/3 innings, scattering four hits, giving up two runs, walking three and striking out six.

Lester suffered the loss.

St. Louis is back to a six-game lead in the N.L. Central Division over the Cubs waiting for the outcome of the Pirates game on the west coast versus the Dodgers. A Pirates loss puts the Cardinals five games ahead; a win, four.

The Cardinals head home for their last home stand of the season at Busch Stadium starting with a three-game series versus the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, followed by a four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers.