CHICAGO -- Just when the Cardinals needed a win to keep pace in the National League Wild Card race, it was Alex Reyes' turn to pitch. Stephen Piscotty smacked a solo home run and Yadier Molina drove in four runs to back Reyes and power the Cardinals to a 10-4 victory on Saturday at Wrigley Field over the Cubs and slow their drive for 100 wins.
"They're a really good hitting ballclub," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Cardinals, who evened the season series at nine wins apiece with one game remaining. "They're very good offensively. They have a lot of veterans on the team. They're very formidable."
Reyes had shut down the Cubs on Sept. 13, throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, and he was coming off a stellar outing against the Giants. On Saturday, he struck out six over five innings and threw a season-high 115 pitches. Reyes got the outs when needed, as the Cubs went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"I thought he did a nice job of managing the damage," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his rookie starter. "You're at 71 pitches after three, you typically have a lot more runs on you than the three he had. He just did a nice job of managing the innings and not letting them get out of control."
The Cardinals began the day a half-game behind the Giants in the NL Wild Card standings, and that's where they end it after the Mets lost to the Phillies and the Giants bested the Padres in extras, tying for the top two spots. Despite the loss, the Cubs still boast the best record in the Major Leagues (98-56), and they have secured home-field advantage through the NL Championship Series.
Dexter Fowler missed hitting for the cycle by a home run, but that wasn't enough to help Jason Hammel, who took the loss, serving up four runs in the first inning. The Cardinals ended up tallying runs in five innings.
"It kind of felt like yesterday, just flip-flopped," said St. Louis center fielder Randal Grichuk, who drove in three. "They tried to rally and we kept putting it on them. Whenever they scored, we'd come right back at them and score. We never really gave them a chance to gain momentum and ran away with it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Standing tall: Reyes labored through five innings, but the rookie right-hander saved some of his best pitches for the most precarious spots. He stranded a runner at third in three of his five frames, including twice after that runner advanced there with one out. Among the five outs he garnered in those spots were strikeouts of Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
"Any time you can keep a run off the board with less than two outs and a runner on third, that's huge," Reyes said. "I felt that was a game-changer."
Start me up: Maddon has insisted these last few starts aren't an audition for the postseason, but Hammel may be the odd man out. He began the day with a 10-1 record and a 1.84 ERA in 14 home starts, but he gave up six runs on six hits over 2 1/3 innings. It's the most runs he's allowed at home and the third time this season he was unable to finish the third inning, although one of those abbreviated outings was because of an injury. The right-hander said he had problems with his slider, and the Cardinals took advantage.
"They're kind of an underrated lineup," Hammel said of the Cards. "They can make it hurt if you're not making your pitches." More >
Peralta produces: It seemed a bit unorthodox, given Jhonny Peralta's limited production this season, for Matheny to plug him into the cleanup spot, but the placement worked out quite well. Peralta reached base four times, scored in three of those instances and registered his third three-hit game of the season. Behind him, Molina drove in four.
"Now I'm playing more and more and I'm feeling better and better," said Peralta, who has been limited to 74 games because of a thumb injury. "I feel like the home run for me right now is not working. But more importantly, I feel like I can make good contact."
You go, we go: Fowler nearly entered the record book on Saturday. The Cubs' center fielder led off the first with a single and scored on Ben Zobrist's two-run triple. Fowler hit an RBI double in the second and then tripled in the fourth. With an opportunity to complete the cycle, he struck out in the seventh. The last Cubs player to accomplish the feat was Mark Grace on May 9, 1993. Fowler has hit safely in 11 of his past 13 games, batting .347. He picked up his 47th RBI, the most since he drove in 53 in 2012 with the Rockies.
"Dexter is looking like he did in the first half," Maddon said.
"It's hard to imagine it can be better than it is. We play a playoff game every night. It's raucous all the time. You have to give our folks credit. They show up and they're loud and they're very positive." -- Maddon, on the Wrigley Field fans
"Every game is a big game. You see the Mets and the Giants, they've got easy schedules. We can't afford to lose a series." -- Grichuk, on where the Cardinals stand with eight games remaining in the regular season
The Cardinals' prosperous first inning was helped by an overturned call that loaded the bases for Molina. Hammel unleashed what was first called a wild pitch to Matt Adams, but that was overturned after video replay showed the ball brushed off Adams' leg after it bounced. He was awarded first base after the review, and Molina laced Hammel's next pitch down the left-field line for a two-run double.
With one on and one out in the Cardinals' seventh, Grichuk headed to first after he was apparently hit by a pitch from rookie Felix Pena. The Cubs challenged the ruling, and after a review, the call was overturned. Grichuk then struck out.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals, who have more road wins than any team in the Majors, will play their final regular-season game away from Busch Stadium on Sunday. Carlos Martinez, who has helped the Cardinals to wins in six of his last seven starts, will be eying his 16th victory of the season as he goes against Jon Lester at 7:05 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.
Cubs: Lester will start the Cubs' last home regular-season game on Sunday. Lester is eight innings shy of 2,000 in his career, and nine shy of reaching 200 this season. In his last start against the Reds, he gave up one run over seven innings.