Cards remain 3rd in Wild Card after stalling vs. Lester
By Jenifer Langosch and Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester won his National League-leading 19th game and Addison Russell notched his 94th RBI but Sunday night belonged to David Ross, who was greeted by standing ovations every at-bat, and responded with a solo home run, a few tears and a tip of his cap.
Ross and Lester combined to lead the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals to set a franchise record in home wins at Wrigley Field at 57. It also was Chicago's 99th win overall, tops in the Major Leagues.
St. Louis brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth when Aroldis Chapman walked Randal Grichuk with two outs, but the Cubs' closer fanned Jose Martinez on a 92-mph slider, after three straight fastballs topped 103. The Cardinals (81-74) are still clinging to hope for a postseason berth and remained third in the NL Wild Card standings, 1 1/2 games behind the Mets (83-73) and a half-game behind the Giants (82-74).
The Cardinals haven't done much to help their positioning in that race, however, as they've gone 11-12 this month and scored a total of 19 runs in those 12 losses.
"We have a number of guys going through their own struggles right now," said Brandon Moss, now 5-for-66 in September after another hitless night. "It's not the greatest time to be going through it. If you're judging by today, it's hard to because [Lester] threw a great game. When you don't get many pitches to hit, you have to go out there and battle."
Lester, a leading contender for the Cy Young Award, struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings to move ahead of teammate Jake Arrieta and the Nationals' Max Scherzer in wins and remain second in the NL in ERA at 2.28 behind another Cub, Kyle Hendricks. But Ross, who is retiring at season's end, stole the show. Manager Joe Maddon pulled the veteran with two outs in the seventh, and he was saluted again by the crowd of 40,859 and greeted by hugs from his teammates. It was Lester's idea to take Ross out at that time, and he had talked to Maddon about it.
"I really wanted to do something that was special to him and special to me and make sure he really understood that we appreciate him and what he does and brings on a day to day basis," Lester said.
Ross could be back behind the plate at Wrigley Field on Oct. 7 when the Cubs begin the NL Division Series against the winner of the Wild Card Game.
Martinez and manager Mike Matheny agreed that the right-hander appeared more "amped up" than usual on Sunday. Martinez described that as a product of the pennant race. Matheny believed it to be largely related to the day's circumstances.
"I think he's the kind of kid; he's emotional," Matheny said. "He's able to figure out how to harness those extremely well. We saw that a good portion of the year last year with what he was going through with [the passing of teammate] Oscar [Taveras]. I think he's just a kid who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and today was a tough day. He wanted to go out and do something special, and I believe he did."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Grandpa Rossy: The video scoreboard showed highlights of Ross' career between innings, and in the second inning before his first at-bat, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He tipped his helmet but he also struck out. The fans saluted Ross again with one out in the fifth, and this time he delivered his 10th home run of the season. Ross, 39, acknowledged the fans with a curtain call. The Cubs surprised him pregame on Friday with gifts, including home plate from Arrieta's no-hitter in April, which Ross caught. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina made sure to pause long enough before Ross' at-bats.
"What a treat for a backup catcher to get that kind of ovation, and then Yadi, he's such a professional and recognizes the moment and gives me that time," Ross said. "I'm overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts and reflection. I was trying to lock in, and it's a big game. It was an amazing night." More >
Peralta produces: A day after keying the Cardinals' offense from the cleanup spot, Jhonny Peralta delivered the team's first hit with a runner in scoring position with his eighth-inning, RBI single. The Cardinals had been 0-for-6 in such spots prior to Peralta's at-bat. He improved to 8-for-16 against Cubs reliever Justin Grimm with the single to center, which scored Martinez, who had opened the inning with a walk.
Fine line:Ben Zobrist doubled to lead off the Cubs' sixth, and Russell then lined a ball down the left-field line that was called foul. But the Cubs challenged the ruling, and the call was overturned after a review, giving Russell an RBI double and the Cubs' a 2-0 lead. Zobrist finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored from the cleanup spot.
Molina motors on: Molina started behind the plate for the Cardinals for the 135th time, most among all Major League catchers and putting the veteran backstop one start shy of tying his career high. His offensive production continues to be equally as impressive. With another two-hit game on Sunday, Molina extended his hitting streak to 11 games. He has 42 multihit games this season, most on the team.
"A backup catcher gets all those standing ovations. David's been one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league for many years. Look at our record when he catches." -- Maddon, on Ross. The Cubs are 39-10 in games that he starts at catcher.
"I wouldn't call it pressure, but I know there was a lot of expectation on me to win this game and for our team to do well. Obviously, it's a crucial moment. I wanted to prove that I could go out there and do my best." -- Martinez, on his six-inning start
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cubs finished with a home attendance of 3,232,420 for 81 games at Wrigley Field, third-highest in franchise history.
Lester has tied his career high with 19 wins, which he also posted in 2010 with the Red Sox. The lefty is 10-0 with a 1.34 ERA in 13 starts in the second half. He'll make one more regular-season start next Saturday in Cincinnati.
The Cardinals used a challenge successfully in the sixth inning after Martinez was called out trying to advance to second on Martinez's sacrifice-bunt attempt. After a two-minute, 15-second review, the call was overturned. That gave the Cardinals some offensive life with two on and no out against Lester, but a subsequent double play off the bat of Matt Carpenter caused the rally to fizzle.
The Cardinals didn't have the same luck in eighth when challenging a hit-by-pitch call on Chicago's Javier Baez. Though replay appeared to show Jonathan Broxton's pitch hitting the knob of Baez's bat, there was not enough video evidence to overturn the call. Baez jogged to first to load the bases, and the Cubs went on to score an insurance run, making it 3-1.
There was a moment of silence before the game in memory of Fernandez. The Cubs hung a No. 16 jersey in the dugout, and that number was the only out of town pitcher number listed on the Wrigley Field scoreboard. Cardinals rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who grew up with Fernandez in Cuba, wore a No. 16 wristband. A few of the Cubs players, such as Chapman, Jorge Soler, Baez and Willson Contreras, wrote "JF 16" on their caps. Cubs|Cardinals >
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals' NL Wild Card chances will hinge on the results of their final homestand, which opens with a 7:15 p.m. CT game against the Reds on Monday. Jaime Garcia, who was briefly unplugged from the rotation, returns to make the start against Cincinnati's Tim Adleman. Garcia has an 8.23 ERA over his last six starts but is coming off a scoreless, four-inning relief appearance.
Cubs: Hendricks, the Major League ERA leader, will open a four-game series against the Pirates at PNC Park on Monday. Hendricks is 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh, but both of those games were at Wrigley Field, where the right-hander is 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA. He's 6-6 with a 2.90 ERA on the road. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. CT.