CHICAGO — With only a handful hits and a few chances to make the most of them, the Cardinals out-weathered whatever the Cubs threw at them Friday to outlast them and, just maybe, oust them from the division race.
The Cardinals got two runs on Yadier Molina’s groudball single to center field and that was enough as they edged the rivals, 2-1, during a 4-hour game at Wrigley Field that utilized a total of 15 pitchers. The Cubs used eight different relievers and nine pitchers total to quiet the Cardinals offense and wait, wait, wait for their lineup to take the hint. The Cardinals’ bullpen never let it. Following Michael Wacha’s solid four innings, the Cardinals’ relievers pitched five shutout innings to secure the win.
Less than 20 hours after he was unable to close a three-run lead in the ninth inning Thursday night, Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez got a second chance to make that 22nd impression. Andrew Miller pitced all three outs of the eighth and the first of the ninth to escort the one-run lead to Martinez. With little panache, Martinez got Ben Zobrist to groundout to first and end the game, assuring at least a split of this pivotal series.
The victory moved the Cardinals five games ahead of the third-place Cubs with eight games to play. The Cubs play the Cardinals five more times in the closing week of the regular season and are slowly losing their grip on contention.
The Cardinals inched their magic number to six for the division title.
Any combination of Brewers’ losses or Cardinals’ wins in the coming days and the Cardinals will have their first NL Central crown since 2015.
Once starter Alec Mills had his innings exhausted by the middle of the fifth and the Cubs had to engage their bullpen, the Cardinals’ offense stirred.
Mills had held them to two hits and two walks and with the exception of a brief threa tin the third inning not been challenged all that much by the Cardinals. Only twice did they have an at-bat with a runner in scoring position against Mills. That changed quickly in the top of the sixth. Reliever David Phelps, a St. Louis native, walked the only two batters he faced, and when Steve Cishek couldn’t calm the inning both of those Cardinals scored.
With the bases loaded, Molina poked a groundball up the middle to score two and flip the game from a 1-0 Cubs lead to a 2-1 Cardinals’ edge. Molina's game-winning hit came two innings after a foul tip got him in the groin -- that same area where a foul ball crashed in 2018 and sent him to the hospital for emergency surgery.
"If you're going to have a tap out contest, you ain't betting on him," manager Mike Shildt. "There are warriors and then there are gladiators."
The top five hitters in the Cardinals’ order would finish one-for-16.
Batting sixth, Molina had three of the Cardinals’ four hits.
Both teams would again load the bases in late innings, and neither would step off the tightrope into a comfier lead. In the top of the eighth, two walks and Molina’s single off right fielder Nicholas Castellanos’ glove brought up the bottom of the order with a chance to expand the lead. Harrison Bader struck out, and former Cardinals prospect Rowan Wick got pinch-hitter Jose Martinez to ground out and end the inning without a run scoring.
In the bottom of the seventh, two singles off reliever John Brebbia began the Cubs’ biggest threat to overtake the Cardinals. Castellanos drew a walk – the Cardinals appeared to be avoiding him and his bounty of doubles entirely – to load the bases for former MVP Kris Bryant. Bryant got the pitch he wanted. Bryant may have even taken the swing he wanted. He lined the ball to deep left field, where Marcell Ozuna tracked it down with a leaping catch at the warning track.
He took an additional step and waded, arms outstretched, into the ivy.
His back to the wall, he had ended the inning.
The early innings were a snarl of troubles for Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, but as many times as he played in traffic he regularly leapfrogged to the other side. A leadoff walk to start the bottom of the first inning became a lineout double play when Anthony Rizzo didn’t test his injured ankle by returning to first base. In the third inning, three consecutive singles loaded the bases with one out before Wacha got cleanup hitter Kyle Schwarber to skip into an inning-ending double play.
In the fourth inning, a two-out walk to Jason Heyward put another runner on base against Wacha and brought up rookie Nico Hoerner. The Cubs’ infielder scalded a grounder that was harder enough to knock the glove off shortstop Paul DeJong’s hand.
DeJong abandoned his glove and retrieved the ball.
A replay challenge by the Cardinals revealed that his throw to first beat Hoerner by a breath for the final out of the inning.
Wacha pitched four innings and allowed one run on five hits and two walks. The Cubs got the run and the early lead in the second inning after Schwarber’s leadoff double. At the position with Kolten Wong sidelined by a hamstring strain, Tommy Edman mishandled a grounder, and Schwarber scored on the error. The run was earned because a single followed the error, meaning Schwarber would have scored in the inning without aid of the misplay.
As they wait on Wong's MRI, Cardinals turn to Edman at second base and No. 2 in lineup
While his teammates filed into the visitors' clubhouse Friday at Wrigley Field and began to prep for that afternoon's game against the Cubs, Kolten Wong headed to have an MRI taken of his left hamstring.
Wong injured his leg trying to outrun a groundout in the fifth inning of the Cardinals' tilt-a-whirl win Thursday night at Wrigley. The initial diagnosis at the ballpark was a "mild strain," though that description implies a muscle tear with a severity to be determined. The MRI will allow for a better look at the injury than the Cardinals' medical team could get at Wrigley Field.
Within 24 to 48 hours of the injury, the Cardinals and Wong should have a good feel for the extent of the injury -- and thus how soon he will be able to resume running.
Manager Mike Shildt said at best it's going to be several days.
But then again, Anthony Rizzo was supposed to miss this entire series because of a sprained ankle that had him locked in a protective boot. He started Thursday night's game, and he's leading off again today.
It's September. Go figure.
UPDATE: Wong was at a local Chicago hospital Friday morning for an exam, and he reported to the team that he was feeling better and that the soreness in the hamstring had relented. He was able to walk comfortable and he was encouraged by how the leg responded over night. The Cardinals will have the MRI read by their official physicians and give the team a sense of the injury during the afternoon.
In Wong's absence, Matt Carpenter came off the bench and hit the game-winning home run in the 10th inning Thursday night. It's Tommy Edman that gets the larger prominence Friday as the Cardinals unveil their first lineup without Wong in awhile. Edman takes over at second base, his natural position, and also moves up to bat second between Dexter Fowler and Paul Goldschmidt. Edman scored two of the Cardinals' four runs, and he had a standup triple to go with a single in Thursday's win.
In his past 102 at-bats -- essentially a monthlong span -- the switch-hitting rookie is batting .333 with a .370 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage approaching .600. He has 12 RBIs in those 27 games. He's scored 23 runs. He's hit five homers, he's stole five bases and on and on and on ...
There was a time when Shildt acknowledged that Edman was starting ahead of Carpenter despite having about the same production as Carpenter. The manager said he had to make decisions about the lineup based on what he thought was coming from the player, not from what was already done.
Point taken. Point proven.
The Cubs have jumbled their pitching rotation for the series perhaps to get more favorable matchups -- or what they perceive to be more favorable matchups. They'll go with Alec Mills on Friday, bumping back Jose Quintana to Saturday, which was supposed to be Cole Hamels' start in the series. Hamels will miss that start due to shoulder fatigue, soreness. Mills pitches opposite Michael Wacha on what is expected to be a steamy warm day on the north side.
It's September. It will feel like August. But it's like October for the Cubs.
The lineup for the Cardinals:
1. Dexter Fowler, RF
2. Tommy Edman, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. Matt Carpenter, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Paul DeJong, SS
8. Harrison Bader, CF
9. Michael Wacha, P
The Cubs' lineup:
1. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
2. Nicholas Castellanos, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Kyle Schwarber, LF
5. Willson Contreras C
6. David Bote, 2B
7. Jason Heyward, CF
8. Nico Hoerner, SS
9. Alec Mills, P
Stay tuned throughout the day as the Cardinals-Cubs game unfolds. This article will be updated with game coverage. The Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com will have columnist Ben Frederickson on site and ready to pounce on the coverage in addition to the usual beat work. There is no word whether Joe Maddon plans to put Ryne Sandberg in the lineup at the last minute. But if it happens, we'll have it covered.