ST. LOUIS -- Manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw of the Cubs' approach on Saturday night, especially when batters faced two-out, two-strike situations.Hey, it's never too early to prepare for the postseason.Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras all contributed clutch RBI hits with two outs and two strikes
ST. LOUIS -- Manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw of the Cubs' approach on Saturday night, especially when batters faced two-out, two-strike situations.
Hey, it's never too early to prepare for the postseason.
Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras all contributed clutch RBI hits with two outs and two strikes in the count, and Jason Heyward added a two-run homer for insurance in the eighth inning to lift the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
"We get to the playoffs, you need to be able to do things," Maddon said. "You're seeing good pitching all the time. Good pitchers don't throw cookies and say, 'Here, hit home runs.' We have to learn how to manufacture [runs] when the pitches aren't there to hit over the wall."
Happ's RBI double with two outs in the seventh was key because it gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead, their first advantage in the game. Heyward didn't want to get too deep in the count against the Cardinals' Jordan Hicks in the eighth and launched a 99-mph fastball for his fourth home run.
"Love it," Maddon said of the clutch hitting. "Listen, that is my No. 1 priority offensively. Homers will come. Pitchers throw homers. When hitters try to hit homers on all the pitches thrown to them, the results are normally bad. Let pitchers throw you home runs. Be in position to hit the ball hard with two strikes. Understand they're not giving you that pitch to drive out of the ballpark. Why not adapt? That's where the action will come back into the game, that's where you'll get more movement, that's where you'll get the entertainment you're looking for."
Kyle Hendricks benefited from the offense, ending a personal three-game losing streak with the win. The Cubs had scored three runs total in his last three games, and he'd also given up a home run in each outing. That continued on Saturday, as Marcell Ozuna gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the first.
Heyward has been focusing on improving his hitting, taking advantage of time off when he was on the concussion disabled list. Since he's come off the DL on May 18, Heyward has a slash line of .318/.352/.506.
"He's the guy who has really ascended among the group," Maddon said. "He's made all the difference by being able to hit second and providing some really big hits in the latter part of the game. He's really good as the game gets in progress."
Asked if the break made a difference, Heyward laughed. He was batting .227 with a slugging percentage of .340 before he went on the DL.
"I know I made strides," Heyward said. "You can't waste any days. That's how hard the game is. When you're going through things, it's hard to slow it down. It's hard to break everything down and pay attention. I try to use my time wisely."
And the difference? He's using his hands more, keeping things simple.
"It's way easier to make adjustments on the fly when I'm trying to throw my hands at the ball instead of arms and trying to muscle the ball all over," he said. "It's hard to catch everything when you're going at it day in and day out. I was able to see it and work on it and feel it, and here we go."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Vroom vroom: Russell had three hits -- a pair of doubles and a leadoff home run in the fourth off the first pitch from Martinez. The homer, just his third of the season, landed on the center-field berm and tied the score at 2.
Road warrior: Heyward seems to thrive on the road, and entered the game batting .302 away from Wrigley Field this season. In the eighth, Benjamin Zobrist reached on an errant throw by shortstop Yairo Munoz, and Heyward went deep on the first pitch from Hicks for the first home run off the rookie reliever. Heyward homered on a 99.1-mph sinker, the fourth-fastest pitch hit for a home run this season. With an exit velocity of 104 mph, it was the second hardest by a left-handed batter, trailing Ozzie Albies' homer off Noah Syndergaard on April 20.
Ozuna's homer was the 14th this season off Hendricks, who gave up 17 over 139 2/3 innings in 2017. Half of the homers Hendricks allowed this year have been hit in the first inning, but he doesn't get rattled.
"A couple years in the big leagues has helped that," Hendricks said. "If it was early in my career, I might have a different thought process. It's one of those things. I'm battling and getting really hurt when I make a bad pitch. There's nothing I can do, I can't get it back. That's where my focus is now -- the next pitch."
HE SAID IT
"Eight days -- that's pretty good rest. I didn't feel too bad. I guess it took me a few pitches to get into the inning. The results worked out." -- closer Brandon Morrow, who appeared in his first game since June 7 and picked up the save
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With two on and one out in the Cardinals' ninth, Matt Carpenter popped up along the left-field line. Third baseman Kristopher Bryant couldn't get his glove on the ball and was charged with an error. The Cardinals challenged that the ball dropped in fair territory, but after a review, the ruling stood.
Jose Quintana will close the series on Sunday night at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty. Quintana has given up two runs or fewer in three straight starts for the first time since June 16-27, 2017. He limited the Brewers to two runs, both on solo homers, in his most recent outing, lasting six innings, and is 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA in seven road starts. He lost a start against the Cardinals on May 4, giving up three unearned runs over four innings. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT on ESPN.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.