CHICAGO -- It was the kind of game the Cardinals had lost too often the past week, when multiple opportunities to win slipped through their fingers and morphed into a season-high losing streak of five games.The skid came to a halt Monday night at Wrigley Field thanks to some good
CHICAGO -- It was the kind of game the Cardinals had lost too often the past week, when multiple opportunities to win slipped through their fingers and morphed into a season-high losing streak of five games.
The skid came to a halt Monday night at Wrigley Field thanks to some good fortune and fortitude in a 3-2 win to open a series against the Cubs, who are 11 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals in the National League Central.
It was just one win, but there was no mistaking how important it felt afterward, after a frustrating week of close losses.
"Huge," manager Mike Matheny said. "To have some wins to put away [last week], two against Texas right there in front of us, and the Houston game, too. ... We had three in the last week and then a fourth one that we have to put away [against the Cubs]. You've got to get it done. That's all there is to it. You feel those [losses]. Those ones leave a little bit of a mark."
Brandon Moss and Jhonny Peralta hit solo homers to help build a 3-0 lead against former Cardinals pitcher John Lackey. The pitching staff and defense did the rest, led by starter Jaime Garcia's 6 2/3 innings. Garcia earned the win, but not until the bullpen escaped some sticky situations, including Trevor Rosenthal getting out of the ninth despite allowing a double, single and hitting a batter.
Rosenthal got a stroke of luck after Albert Almora Jr. doubled to center field with one out. After plunking Chris Coghlan to put runners on first and second, he threw what appeared to be a wild pitch with Ben Zobrist at the plate.
Rather than going to the backstop, the ball hit umpire Pat Hobert in the foot and stayed near catcher Yadier Molina, who grabbed it and threw Almora out at third trying to advance. Coghlan didn't move up to second, which would've put him in scoring position for Zobrist's ensuing single. Rosenthal then got Jason Heyward to pop out to end the game and losing streak.
"Looking back at last week and those games all being close games, where we just couldn't quite catch a break and finish it off, to have the same kind of game tonight and be able to finish it and hold on, it's a good feeling," said Rosenthal, who's trying to hang onto the closer's role. "I'm happy to walk away from that."
The Cardinals said they're not concerned about the Cubs' lead in the division just yet. In fact, Matheny said he routinely throws away the sheet that's placed on his desk that contains the standings.
"Usually I tell 'em not to even put it there, because I could care less," he said. "I mean, yeah, at the end of the day, our job description is winning, and we want to win our division, just like any other team in the division. But I think it's getting the cart in front of the horse, and right now the focus needs to be on us playing really good baseball. I think that stuff just takes care of itself."
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, not surprisingly, is taking the same approach, along with the players. His outlook, however, is tinged with a dose of realism, too.
"[The Cubs are] playing at the highest level possible, really, so rather than focus on the hope of them crumbling, it's really about us starting to win games," Mozeliak said. "Anytime you can get to the postseason, you always have a chance, so that's probably the most important thing for us to focus on."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago.