ST. LOUIS -- By the time Kolten Wong's teammates mobbed him at home plate, walk-off winners in the unlikeliest way, the Cardinals' bench was a ghost town, their clubhouse an infirmary. Tyler Lyons, a middle reliever, stood on deck. Five other bullpen arms had already been exhausted, every position player used. Four key players required treatment from the training staff, three of whom were active at the start of the game but absent for its celebratory end.
Thus all the talk of resilience after St. Louis stormed back, from two deficits and against considerable other challenges, to capture an 8-6 win over the Cubs on Saturday afternoon. Marcell Ozuna's game-tying double capped a two-run rally off Cubs closer Brandon Morrow in the ninth before Wong won it with a towering two-run homer off Luke Farrell in the 10th. The third walk-off homer of Wong's career gave St. Louis its third such win of the season, and it guaranteed a series win in front of a mixed sea of red and blue, totalling 47,154 strong at Busch Stadium.
"I'm telling you, we never feel like we're out of it," Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said. "This was a really great win for us, and everybody had a piece of it."
Carpenter almost meant that literally. Already down a reliever by first pitch, the Cardinals needed 20 players to weather the loss of three others and survive 10 frames. Tommy Pham, Yadier Molina and Bud Norris all left with injuries, forcing Matheny to orchestrate two comebacks under ample constraints. Take, for example, the decision to pinch-hit his ace, Carlos Martinez, when St. Louis was down a run in the sixth. Saving Jedd Gyroko for a later spot and backup catcher Francisco Pena for emergency use could've easily backfired, but it proved wise after Pena was needed to spell Molina, who was forced to exit with a groin injury in the ninth.
"Look at the mess we would've been in, had we [pinch-hit Pena]," Matheny said. "We might still be sitting out there waiting for Yadi to feel better."
By the end, only Luke Gregerson and Sam Tuivailala remained in the bullpen. Had the game continued, Matheny planned to call on Friday's starter Miles Mikolas to play the field, though he would've been prohibited from throwing. Aside from Michael Wacha, Sunday's scheduled starter, no other option remained.
"We were a little limited," Matheny said. "We were trying to be creative with how we were going to get through it if anybody else went down."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals who remained on the field continuously battled back. A bounty of free bases and some charitable defense allowed St. Louis to claw back from a 4-0 hole against Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood, after Luke Weaver allowed four runs over four tough-luck frames. Solo home runs by Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo then gave Chicago a two-run cushion heading into the ninth, when Morrow took the mound unscored upon all season.
But Harrison Bader (Pham's replacement) walked and Jose Martinez singled off Morrow to set the stage for Ozuna, whose double into the left-field corner ignited what he described as a postseason atmosphere.
"I've never played in the World Series, but these kind of games feel like that," Ozuna said. "It feels different from a regular game."
Wong socked a 1-1 fastball into the seats beyond the right-field wall, putting St. Louis in position to sweep in Sunday's nationally televised finale.
"There was no reason for him to try to bunt for a base hit with the pitcher behind him. Makes more sense to jump a ball." Matheny said. "We were hoping for a double. A homer was even better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carpenter snares one: With the go-ahead run on third with two out in the top of the 10th, the Cubs appeared primed to jump back ahead when pinch-hitter Victor Caratini rocketed a line drive the other way off Lyons. But Carpenter made a quick reaction play, lunging to his right to take a hit away from Caratini, end the frame and preserve the tie.
"I was trying to make a play," Carpenter said. "It was the winning run in a big spot."
Ozuna comes through: Admittedly pressing over a 31-game start in which he's hit .260 with a .631 OPS, Ozuna has shown signs of improvement over the first two games of this series. He collected three hits Friday, and he rebounded from an 0-for-4 start Saturday when he sent a 0-1 slider from Morrow into the left-field corner.
"I feel so-so," Ozuna said. "I am trying to battle. One day is good, the next day is bad. It's up and down. I have to figure out how to stay at the same level."
Pham was removed in the second with right groin tightness after tracking several fly balls gingerly in center field. Matheny called it "reoccurring," referring to the minor groin injury that forced Pham to miss several games last month. Pham originally tweaked his groin on April 17 in Chicago on a frigid night at Wrigley Field.
Molina left in the ninth after being struck by a Kristopher Bryant foul ball in the groin region.
"Those don't necessarily feel better tomorrow," Matheny said.
Matheny said Norris' "tricep tightened up on him" in the 10th inning.
"That's basically all we have on him at this point," Matheny said. Norris was pitching for the fourth time in four games. More >
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Bader impacted the game in several ways after replacing Pham in the second. He scored two runs, stole a base and ranged far and wide to make a handful of impressive plays in center field. He took a hit away from Jason Heyward with a sprinting play in the eighth that Statcast™ registered as a four-star catch.
HE SAID IT
"Like I keep saying, walking off doesn't get old." -- Bader
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Runs hung in the balance during two second-inning reviews, both of which went against the Cardinals. With the score 1-0 in the top of the frame, Addison Russell was initially ruled out at home after Weaver glove-flipped Chatwood's squeeze bunt to the plate. But the call was overturned after a 1-minute, 41-second review, after officials determined Russell snuck his hand around Molina's tag.
Down 4-0 a half-inning later, the Cardinals appeared to inch closer when Weaver was ruled safe after Russell dove to field a Bader ground ball, then threw to second. That would've scored Wong from third with two outs, but Weaver was ruled out after a 1-minute, 40-second review, deleting Wong's run.
The latest installment of this storied rivalry will come under the lights at Busch Stadium, and in front of a national audience. Wacha (4-1, 3.62 ERA) opposes Jonathan Lester (2-1, 2.73 ERA) in the finale of this three-game set, set for Sunday at 7:08 p.m. CT. The Cardinals have a 3-1 advantage through the rivals' four head-to-head matchups of 2018.