Cubs' grand day leaves Cardinals all wet
But it didn't matter, for another day at least, what the Brewers did, because the Cubs went home Saturday securely in first place in the National League Central after beating the Cardinals 5-3.
Daryle Ward said. "It's starting to get that time where we're grinding it down to the end and guys are getting excited in the clubhouse. We feel like we have a team that should win a lot of ballgames. At first our goal was to stay .500 or so, but now it's a lot more than that."
The last time the Cubs were in first place this late in the season was 2003, when they last won the Central. The last time they had sole possession of first place before this weekend was April 28-29 of 2004.
Saturday's victory was their seventh in 10 tries against the Cardinals, who are now four games behind the Cubs, and came on Ward's third-inning grand slam that broke through a cold, easterly wind.
The game was delayed an hour at the start by rain and 65 minutes in the eighth inning. With 41,369 rabid Cubs and Cardinals dealing with those elements and temperatures in the low 60s, Saturday had a touch of October.
"It's a lot of fun playing this game," Ward said. "The crowd is really loud. We can't even hear each other calling for the ball in the outfield. It feels like a playoff atmosphere and it's the kind of baseball we want to play."
If the Cubs had any doubt they are on a new roll, Saturday's third inning should have convinced them. That's when they scored all five of their runs on only two hits. Two walks and a hit batter by Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes helped.
If the Cardinals needed any reminder this wasn't their day, it came in the sixth inning. With Albert Pujols on third base and Juan Encarnacion at first, Carlos Marmol threw a pitch to the backstop that ricocheted back to catcher Jason Kendall. A flip to Marmol and a quick tag got Pujols, although replays showed he was safe.
"Really nice play," manager Lou Piniella said. "Big play in the game. I looked at replay. The call was right."
To top off that Cardinals sixth, the third out came when pinch-hitter Chris Duncan struck out—on a pitch that hit him in the knee.
The sixth inning also saw the departure of Cubs starter Sean Marshall (6-6), who allowed only two solo home runs after the Cubs' uprising in the third inning. Reliever Bob Howry also allowed a solo shot in the eighth inning and was one strike from getting the third out when rain came.
After the stoppage, Carmen Pignatiello came in to finish off Duncan, throwing one curveball for a called strike. And Ryan Dempster pitched his second straight perfect ninth inning.
But Ward was the hero with his first homer as a Cub.
"I've been trying to do everything to get the first one," he said. "I've been trying different T-shirts and everything."
Ward even got a curtain call but had to be prompted by hitting coach Gerald Perry.
"Gerald told me, 'Get up there, get up there,' " Ward said. "I tried to give a little fist pump in each direction so I could get them all at once."
And now the Cubs have two games left against the Cardinals, with Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly pitching. But clearly Rich Hill and Marshall already have cooled the Cardinals, who came to town with a five-game winning streak.
"Our job was to play good baseball and slow this team down, and so far we've been able to do it," Piniella said. "Hopefully we'll get on a little streak."