For four innings, it appeared that Ryan's freak off-the-glove solo home run might be the deciding hit in a tight Cardinals win. Instead, it was merely the setup to the defensive whiz's game-ending RBI single, a hit that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 victory over the rival Cubs. The victory increased the Cardinals' lead in the National League Central back to 11 games and trimmed their magic number for winning the division to four.
"This is a pretty fun time," said Ryan, whose defense has been a key part of the Cardinals' success all year. "I've said it before, this is my dream come true, really. And then to have a day like today, it's just all the more special. I'm just trying to go out there and help give us a chance to win. Mostly that's going to be with the defense, and today it just happened to be with the bat."
Chris Carpenter and Ryan Dempster each pitched eight excellent innings, with Ryan's solo shot the only offense over that stretch. Leading off the fifth inning, Ryan jumped a 1-2 pitch from Dempster and lined it deep to left field.
Cubs outfielder Bobby Scales chased the ball to the wall, and got his glove on it. But when he hit the outfield wall, the ball skipped out of his glove and over the wall for Ryan's third homer of the season.
"I caught the ball," Scales said. "The fence jarred it loose. That's all there is to it, really. The fence jarred it loose. What are you going to do?"
Carpenter left after eight shutout innings, seemingly en route to his 17th win and another line on his Cy Young résumé. He struck out four and walked two, allowing eight hits.
Carpenter has been sharper, and he's been more dominant. See his start 12 days earlier in Milwaukee, for example. But on a day when he had no room for even a single big mistake, Carpenter didn't make one. He departed with a well-deserved lead, and he dropped his ERA to 2.34.
"I came out and established my fastball," he said. "My command was a little off, but I was able to make pitches when I had to."
But Ryan Franklin had trouble in the ninth, depriving Carpenter of the individual win. Two singles opened the inning against Franklin before Jeff Baker's sacrifice fly tied the score. However, Franklin got Scales to hit into a double play, ending the threat and giving the Cards a chance to win in the bottom of the ninth.
Ryan Ludwick led off with a single, and though Mark DeRosa's sacrifice bunt attempt didn't succeed, DeRosa beat out the potential double play. Yadier Molina singled to give the Cards men on the corners, bringing up Ryan.
Once again, given a chance to star, he did. Ryan battled a tough six-pitch at-bat against Carlos Marmol before poking a 1-2 slider through the left side for the game-ender.
"That's not a comfortable at-bat," Ryan said. "Any righty facing Marmol, that's not comfortable. But you've got the crowd behind you, everybody's charged, and I've got an opportunity there to win the game. And I just wanted to try to stay up the middle and get the ball out of the infield -- not do what I did the at-bat before that, and hit into a double play. He spotted two fastballs in there, and that was tough. And then, fortunately, I was able to get the barrel on a slider, and luckily it found a hole."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.