Rusin, Cubs blank Cardinals to take opener
Left-hander helps deliver first shutout in St. Louis since '97
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Rusin lasted long enough to get the win and make a little history.
Junior Lake hit an RBI single and scored on Anthony Rizzo's two-run single, all in the seventh, to back Rusin and lift the Cubs to a 3-0 victory Friday night over the Cardinals for their third win in the last 12 games.
Rusin combined with four other pitchers, including Kevin Gregg, who picked up his 24th save, for the first Cubs shutout in St. Louis since the late Geremi Gonzalez threw a complete game shutout on June 23, 1997, beating Fernando Valenzuela. The Cubs have played 127 games since that date at various versions of Busch Stadium.
"I'm surprised," Rusin said when told of the shutout significance.
Promoted from Triple-A Iowa to fill Matt Garza's spot in the rotation after the right-hander was traded, Rusin also threw seven scoreless innings against the Giants on July 27 and called that start a better one "because I went one more inning scoreless." But he didn't get a decision that day. Rusin is the first Cubs left-hander to throw at least six scoreless innings in St. Louis since Ken Holtzman totaled seven on Sept. 19, 1979.
"With him, when he throws strikes, he's able to get back in the count with a strike and throw a quality pitch to get back in the count," manager Dale Sveum said. "His ball can move so much, he gets some swings and misses at balls quite a way out of the zone. He makes the ball move and keeps the ball down. He did a great job again."
This was the first time Rusin had ever faced the Cardinals, who lead the Majors with a .335 batting average with runners in scoring position. The lefty kept them in check, scattering seven hits over six scoreless innings.
"I was able to get ahead in the count with first-pitch strikes, and that helped me out and I didn't get beat by the heart of the lineup," Rusin said. "I limited them to a couple singles and no home runs. I got away with one with [Allen] Craig [in the fifth] -- the wind was blowing in or something [because] I don't know how it didn't go out. I got away with that one and didn't make any more big mistakes."
St. Louis had chances. The Cardinals had two on and two outs in the second, and Rusin intentionally walked Pete Kozma to load the bases and face Lance Lynn, who struck out looking.
The strategy worked again in the fourth when Jon Jay singled with two outs. Kozma was intentionally walked, and this time, Lynn grounded out to end the inning. Jay singled with one out in the sixth, but Rusin got Kozma to hit into an inning-ending double play.
"I wanted to get ahead of the hitters with strike one," Rusin said. "I can work off that. I'm not an overpowering guy, so if I fall behind in the count, then I'm in trouble because I'm not going to go fastball and beat them. I was able to get ahead strike one, and go from there."
The Cubs are on the other end of the stats chart with runners in scoring position, ranking last in the Majors at .224, which includes a 1-for-12 effort Thursday against the Phillies.
Sveum, still looking for a No. 4 hitter since Alfonso Soriano was traded to the Yankees, inserted David DeJesus in the cleanup spot. It was the first time in DeJesus' career that he batted fourth, and the outfielder went 0-for-3, stranding two in the seventh.
Welington Castillo walked to lead off the Chicago seventh, and moved up on Starlin Castro's sacrifice, which was first ruled an infield hit by first-base umpire Larry Vanover. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny argued that Lynn had tagged Castro as he ran down the line, and after the umpires met, they reversed the call. Darwin Barney then walked, and one out later, Lake delivered a RBI single to center. Cole Gillespie was hit by a pitch to load the bases and chase Lynn. Rizzo, who is batting .197 against lefties, greeted southpaw Randy Choate with his single to center to open a 3-0 lead.
"That was huge -- off a lefty and in a big situation," Sveum said. "Hopefully, that transpires into a lot more."
Clutch hits have been missing from the Cubs' repertoire, including Rizzo.
"He knows it," Sveum said of his young first baseman. "Hopefully, with seven weeks left, that all changes."
"It was nice, especially against Randy Choate, [because] he's tough on lefties," Rizzo said. "I tried to see the ball as long as possible off him. Hit it where they're not, honestly. I just put the ball in play and hit it where they're not."
Lynn gave up only three hits but walked five over 6 2/3 innings.
"It was one of those things where they got me in some deep counts, they worked some walks, and they weren't chasing some stuff," Lynn said. "You have to kind of tip your cap to them. You don't ever want to tip your cap to an opponent, but you have to kind of do that in situations because they weren't swinging at stuff just out of the zone. They had a good plan and it ended up working for them later in the game."
The Cubs are clearly auditioning for next season, but Sveum wasn't thinking about his 2014 rotation.
"There's eight months until Spring Training," Sveum said. "We'll cross those bridges when we get to it."
"I don't think too much about that," the lefty said about next season. "I just take it game to game, and go out and do what I can do and try to give our team a chance to win."