Rusch took a perfect game into the seventh inning and a one-hitter into the eighth. But the Cardinals swung the momentum their way that inning, touching Rusch for two runs before he was pulled in favor of reliever Scott Williamson.
Down three runs, with runners on first and third and two outs, the Cardinals brought the tying run to the plate in Jim Edmonds, who had three home runs in his past five games, to face reliever Will Ohman.
It was the juicy matchup a sold-out crowd of 47,292 was waiting to see. A day earlier, the matchup resulted in Edmonds blasting his 25th home run of the year. On Tuesday, though, the Edmonds-Ohman matchup ended with Edmonds grounding out. It was an anti-climactic finish to the only rally the Cardinals put together all night as the Cubs held on for a 5-2 win at Busch Stadium.
"I tip my hat to Rusch, he pitched a masterpiece. He was in charge all night long," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He put the ball on the edges, mixed in his breaking ball, moved it around -- it was just really well done."
Starting pitcher Matt Morris (14-7, 3.97 ERA) put the Cardinals in a hole early, giving up two runs in the first on 36 pitches. The right-hander never recovered, giving up four runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings pitched. He walked one, struck out none and gave up nine hits. It is the third time this season Morris has lost to the Cubs. He is 0-3 with an 8.29 ERA against Chicago.
"The Cubs take a good approach and they've got something on me that I keep doing -- whether it's offspeed when I am ahead in the count, they seem to sit on some curveballs and put some good bats on them," Morris said. "I tip my hat to them, but I have to make some better pitches."
Morris has lost his last two starts and has allowed nine earned runs in 11 1/3 innings pitched. He was mired in a midseason funk but seemed to snap out of it with consecutive wins, in which he gave up just two runs in each outing.
"Physically, I'm feeling good, better than a month ago." Morris said. "It seems like I am recovering fast from my surgery, but I want to execute and go home feeling good when I go to sleep."
While Morris struggled to find his command, Rusch (6-8, 4.67 ERA) was busy pitching the game of his life. He retired 18 straight batters until David Eckstein rapped a base hit through the middle of the infield in the seventh inning.
"You're always hoping for a no-hitter when a guy goes that deep in a ballgame," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We figured it'd be Eckstein who would break it up. He's a good little ballplayer. It's hard to corral him. "
Eckstein said Rusch's performance was possibly the most dominating he has faced all season.
"Without a doubt," Eckstein said. "His location was unbelievable. You watch the film and he throws the ball up a lot, but today he was throwing the ball down, right at the knees, on the corners. He did a fantastic job tonight."
The Cardinals scored two runs, with two outs courtesy of the bottom of the order. Abraham Nunez (the No. 7 hitter) singled and scored on a Hector Luna (No. 8 hitter) double. Luna then scored on a base hit by John Gall, who came in as part of a double switch. Eckstein moved Gall to third with his infield single, but Ohman snuffed the rally by inducing Edmonds to ground out to second base.
The loss overshadowed another solid performance by the Cardinals bullpen. Randy Flores, Brad Thompson, Tyler Johnson and Cal Edlred combined to pitch 4 2/3 innings, giving up one run, striking out four and walking just one.
For Johnson, it was his Major League debut. He pitched an inning, gave up no runs and struck out one batter.
"I just tried to keep my composure, take a deep breath and throw strikes," Johnson said. "I was a little stressed out and felt a little pressure, but it's part of the game. It got a little easier after the first batter, I'll admit that."
With the loss, combined with a Houston loss, the Cardinals' magic number remains at 11. They still lead the Central Division by 13 1/2 games.
Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.