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Leake coasts before serving up decisive slam

Having earned Matheny's trust to battle out of jam, Cards righty slightly misses location
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The equation didn't seem too complicated.

Cardinals starter Mike Leake was rolling, fresh off a five-pitch sixth inning. He'd faced the minimum number of batters for three straight innings and for five of the previous six. Up two runs, the ball was his for the seventh and it continued to be as he faced Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber with the bases loaded and two out.

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CHICAGO -- The equation didn't seem too complicated.

Cardinals starter Mike Leake was rolling, fresh off a five-pitch sixth inning. He'd faced the minimum number of batters for three straight innings and for five of the previous six. Up two runs, the ball was his for the seventh and it continued to be as he faced Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber with the bases loaded and two out.

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"He's at 96 pitches. He just came off an easy inning, been making good pitches," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny following his team's 5-3 loss on Saturday. "Those were good pitches. From what I hear, the home run was a good pitch."

Leake threw a sinker to Schwarber, which was in the lower third of the zone and on the edge of the plate, but Schwarber went after it. He smashed the ball 403 feet with an exit velocity of 107.3 mph as projected by Statcast™, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead and handing Leake his fourth loss of the season.

Video: STL@CHC: Schwarber crushes go-ahead grand slam in 7th

"It was where we wanted to go, but I mean it was slightly elevated and slightly on the plate a little too much for him," Leake said. "I did expect him to be pretty aggressive just because he has been scuffling. Obviously it was off by a few inches of where I wanted it."

"It was nice to come up in that spot and be able to help out," Schwarber said. "It's kind of a sigh of relief. I want to go up there and help my team, and for me to do that today was great."

The grand slam marred what would've been another in a long line of solid starts for Leake. The right-hander had worked through six innings while allowing only one run -- a Javier Baez solo shot in the third -- mirroring much of his early production in the season.

Leake began 2017 with nine straight quality starts. He ran into some trouble in his last start against the Dodgers, but it was only the first time all year he'd given up more than three runs in a single outing.

And as two Cubs singled and Jon Jay was grazed by a pitch to load the bases in the seventh, that was something Matheny factored into his decision.

"Those are times when [your starter] has been good for you all season long and you give him the chance to get out of his own mess," Matheny said. "Not even that big of a mess. It's not like he's out there just walking guys. He's making quality pitches. Just a shame it couldn't work out."

With the loss, Leake dropped from his perch as the National League leader in ERA. He said afterward he thought he threw the ball "pretty good," adding that he did a good job early in the game in keeping the Cubs' hitters off balance.

Really, he said, it came down to that pitch. He said he wasn't tired, and he would've felt comfortable pitching in that spot even if it had been a much higher scoring game. The only thing he really had a problem with was the exact placement.

"Yeah, I mean it shows you how fast things can happen," Leake said. "So it's just a matter of coming back out next time and continuing what I've been doing."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago and covered the Cardinals on Saturday.

St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Leake