CHICAGO -- Two innings after a ball skipped between his legs and allowed the Cubs to tie the game, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina threaded a hit between two Cubs to win it.
Down to his final strike in the ninth inning, Molina poked a ground-ball single up the middle and past diving shortstop Starlin Castro to score two runs and rescue the Cardinals from a game that never should have been that close. Molina's two-run single off Cubs closer Hector Rondon was the difference in a 5-4 win late Sunday night at Wrigley Field.
On a night when both teams wore throwbacks from the 1920s, Molina's hit helped the Cardinals avoid any blowback from a three-run lead squandered by errant pitches.
The Cubs had worked to tie the score on a two-out, two-run single by the pitcher and a wild pitch that escaped Molina's mitt as it dove between his pads. That sent the game into the ninth tied before the Cardinals conjured a test of Rondon. Rookie Randal Grichuk and Mark Ellis, the two instigators for the Cardinals' first rally of the game, reached base with one out. Ellis pushed Grichuk into scoring position with his third hit of the game. Peter Bourjos struck out but worked Rondon for nine pitches. That tenderized him for a walk from Matt Carpenter to load the bases and then Molina's two-strike jab up the middle.
Molina's base hit made a winner of Kevin Siegrist, who struck out the side in the eighth. Closer Trevor Rosenthal allowed a run and faced the winning run at the plate before seizing his eighth save.
Rosenthal got Anthony Rizzo to ground out to end the game.
The win was the Cardinals' first of the weekend at Wrigley.
Grichuk, two two-out walks by Cubs starter Jason Hammel, and a tandem of two-out rallies pushed the Cardinals to an early 3-0 lead. Grichuk's triple in the second inning scored Jhonny Peralta, who had set up the score with a two-out walk. Grichuk scored on Mark Ellis' double. In the third inning, Matt Holliday drew a two-out walk from Hammel and scored on Matt Adams' double to the wall in left-center field.
The Cubs would nibble into the lead when Hammel, the victim of the two-out rallies, delivered a two-out rally.
For the second consecutive start, Lance Lynn saw his game teeter on a base hit by the opposing pitcher. Hammel had been hitless for the season -- zero for 11 -- and hadn't reached base safely before a walk in the third inning. In the fourth inning, Lynn allowed an infield single and a walk but had two outs when Hammel came to the plate. The righthanded-hitting pitcher was down to his final strike when he poked a base hit to right field that scored two runs.
Lynn pitched six innings, as did Hammel, and struck out five, as did Hammel. The Cardinals' righty left the game to the bullpen with a one-run lead.
It didn't last an inning.
Luis Valbuena drove a triple into the right-field corner off Carlos Martinez to set up the tying rally. Valbuena then scored when Martinez's breaking ball kissed the dirt and threaded between Molina's legs. The Cardinals' catcher couldn't make the butterfly save on the pitch and Valbuena came home to knot the score at 3-3 on the wild pitch.
Lynn was, several times, able to defuse potentially difficult innings -- even when he created the trouble for himself. In the third inning, he walked Hammel with one out and then walked the next two batters as well. That loaded the bases for No. 3 hitter Rizzo, who had a home run in each of the previous two games against the Cardinals. The inning bent but didn't break on Lynn. He coaxed a sky-high fly from Rizzo to offer an escape from the inning, and then got the final out with a fly from Starlin Castro. A run didn't score.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Lynn had an inning extended when Cubs manager Rick Renteria successfully used a challenge on Ryan Kalish's groundout. The umpires reviewed the play via replay and determined that Kalish beat Matt Carpenter's throw.
Carpenter had bungled the grounder, so he was credited with an error.
Kalish stood at first.
Lynn didn't relent, getting his fifth and final strikeout as he ended the inning.
The righthander retired seven of the final eight batters he faced and would have retired seven consecutive if not for the overturned out. He was able to hold the Cardinals' one-run lead because he had far more success navigating around the top and middle of the Cubs' lineup than he did the end of the lineup. The first five batters in the Cubs' order went a combined one for 13. Hammel had as many hits.
For the Cardinals, what replay taketh, it also giveth.
Mike Matheny and the Cardinals won their first appeal of the season in the seventh inning when the manager challenged another call at first base by umpire Adrian Johnson. Carpenter, dinged with an error because of the earlier replay, drilled a grounder that second baseman Darwin Barney dived to get a glove on. He got to his feet, found the ball and fired quickly to first. Johnson called Carpenter out. Matheny challenged, and back to the video went the umpiring crew. The video showed Carpenter had beaten Barney's superb play and the Cardinals had something brewing: two on, one out, and No. 2 hitter Molina at the plate.
Matheny moved Molina and his .343 average up in the order to No. 2 for the first time this season as part of his effort to goose the offense.
Matheny compared it to having Carlos Beltran hitting there.
"Just trying to get something that looks right going," Matheny said before the game. "You can almost look at him like we did having Carlos in the two spot. Not necessarily a guy who is bunting people over and giving up himself as much as it is an opportunity to have one our top hitters in the lineup and get him (at-bats) more often. The conversation with him (is) it's more of having two three-hole hitters. We need the kind of at-bats he was having in the five spot, just do it now in the two."
In that spot, Molina hit into two double plays before he provided the winning hit in the ninth inning.
One of the double plays was triggered when Carpenter slipped on his attempt to get back to first base after a slick catch in right field by Nick Schierholtz. The other came after expanded replay had given the Cardinals the chance for a rally. After Carpenter was ruled safe on the challenge, Molina chopped a grounder to Valbuena. The Cubs' third baseman raced to tap third base and then threw on the move to first base to complete the heady double play and end the Cardinals' inning.
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