Bennett crowned hero in sweep of Cubs

Bennett crowned series hero

ST. LOUIS -- Gary Bennett delivered the finest moment of his professional career Sunday night.

One day after lacing a game-winning, walk-off single, Bennett crushed a two-out, walk-off grand slam off Bob Howry, leading the Cardinals to a 10-6 win over the Cubs at Busch Stadium. It was the first time a game ended on a grand slam at the new park.

"I can't explain it," Bennett said, "I'm 4 years old and it's Christmas morning. That's the feeling, when you come around third and see everyone jumping up and down. Other than the World Series, you can't feel any better. I don't know if any other feeling can top that."

A Chicago native and Cubs fan growing up, Bennett placed the home run a little higher on the career mantelpiece than Saturday's heroics.

"I enjoyed that also, but a walk-off homer is a little more dramatic," he said. "You come around third base and you see all your teammates there, that's wild."

The victory was his first grand slam of his career and first walk-off shot since May 28, 2003. This homer, though, came in the middle of the pennant race and continued an unbelievable power surge.

After hitting no homers in his first 120 at-bats, Bennett has crushed four in his last 16 -- including two in the past two games.

Overall, Bennett -- seeing consistent playing time because of Yadier Molina's muscle strain -- reached base eight times in the three games. The usually light-hitting catcher scorched Cubs pitching, batting .667 (6-for-9).

"You get in some hot streaks and some funks and you don't really make adjustments," he said. "You just try not to think too much when you go up there. You just try and be as consistent as you can be and get good pitches to hit."

His offense helped the Cardinals take five of their final six from the Cubs this year. The Redbirds finished 8-11 against the North Siders.

"What a weekend he has had," manager Tony La Russa said. "Phenomenal, clutch. He is stinging the ball, too. I would say he is the new hero. The hero."

The win also provided the Cardinals with their first three-game winning streak since Aug. 5-7. It marked the squad's first home series sweep since it took four in a row from the Dodgers on July 13-17.

"[Bennett] beat the Cubs by himself," Scott Rolen said.

Coupled with Cincinnati's loss, the Cardinals extended their lead to three games in the NL Central, their highest margin since Aug. 18.

"I'm 4 years old and it's Christmas morning. That's the feeling, when you come around third and see everyone jumping up and down. Other than the World Series, you can't feel any better."
-- Gary Bennett

"I have been in a lot of pennant races and there are a lot of unlikely heroes," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Gary Bennett was the hero in this series. That is about as hot as I have ever seen him."

Bennett would have never received an opportunity if it weren't for several key plays that eventually played huge dividends.

"I thought it was one of the better games we have played doing little things," La Russa said. "We did a lot of little things really well today and some big things, too."

Albert Pujols led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Scott Rolen bounced a possible double-play ball to Ronny Cedeno, but Pujols was running with the pitch, forcing Cedeno to throw to first. Pujols' hustle paid off again with Juan Encarnacion up. Encarnacion hit a grounder to third, but Pujols was again running with the pitch, forcing Aramis Ramirez to freeze for a split second and allowing Encarnacion to beat the throw to first.

A walk and a force play set the table for Bennett's heroics. With the packed crowd of 44,937 screaming his name, Bennett blasted Howry's 1-0 offering into the left-field bullpen, eliciting a stadium ovation.

"I threw a pitch down the middle of the plate, and their hottest hitter hit it out," Howry said.

Bennett's blast concluded one of the wildest Redbirds games this summer. The game featured 11 pitchers, several ties and multiple great -- and terrible -- defensive plays.

Helped by an Encarnacion error and a Jeff Weaver wild pitch, the Cubs scored two runs in the top of the first.

"The wild pitch hurt the situation," Weaver said. The next pitch was a ground ball to second base. That would have helped the situation. That's the way it goes sometimes."

The Redbirds tied the score in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and Preston Wilson on first base, Rolen laced a single to right that skipped past Jacque Jones and went all the way to the wall. Wilson scored easily and Rolen circled the bases to score the tying run.

The Cardinals also scored four times in the fourth. They killed the Cubs softly, using a Pujols swinging bunt, three ground-ball singles and two walks to take a 6-3 lead. Bennett helped keep the rally alive, drawing an intentional walk in front of Weaver. The starter followed with a two-run single off Les Walrond that helped extend the advantage.

Weaver kept the lead until the seventh, benefiting from several diving plays, including two incredible catches from Encarnacion and a diving, outstretched grab by Rolen.

The Cubs, down 6-4, tied the game in the seventh with a pair of runs off Weaver and Adam Wainwright. Jorge Sosa and Braden Looper (7-1) closed the door, though, setting the stage for another dramatic moment from Bennett.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.