ST. LOUIS -- Minutes after delivering the defensive highlight of the night, Cardinals second baseman Yairo Munoz fumbled a potential inning-ending grounder to provide the Cubs the opening they needed to escape Busch Stadium on Sunday with a victory.
The Cardinals' opportunity to sweep their rivals for a second time this season dissolved in that decisive fifth inning, which saw the Cubs score three unearned runs to set up an eventual 5-2 win. With the loss, the Cardinals dropped eight games back of Chicago in the National League Central.
"I'm pleased with the body of work," said interim manager Mike Shildt, whose club is 5-6 coming out of the All-Star break. "I'm pleased with the consistency with which we're doing things. While not perfect, you're starting to see a more consistent brand of baseball. Clearly, we want to see more consistent results with it, but I'm optimistic with where we're going."
Cleaning up the defense, which leads the Majors in errors with 85, has been high on Shildt's to-do list, and the Cardinals had played errorless ball in the series until the fifth.
Munoz, who has floated around the field all season, was needed at second base in this series, as Gold Glove-hopeful Kolten Wong continues to recover from a knee injury. Munoz made the sort of play to which Wong would tip his cap to stall the Cubs' offensive charge in the fifth.
With a sensational diving stop on Anthony Rizzo's hit up the middle and a subsequent flip for a forecout, Munoz secured the second out of the inning in a tie game.
But Benjamin Zobrist, who finished with a four-hit night, extended the frame with a double off reliever Austin Gomber, and Munoz then bobbled a weak ground ball by Jason Heyward to allow the go-ahead run to score.
"I just missed it," Munoz said. "When I was running up to get the ball, it just went up a little bit and went away."
Chicago tacked on two more when Javier Baez followed with a double.
"It really comes down to one pitch," said Gomber, who had relieved starter John Gant when the lineup turned over for a third time. "I thought I got some soft contact in the inning, made some good pitches to the guys that I was supposed to get. Just didn't make a pitch to the one guy who is swinging it really well right now. He made me pay."
That blip was enough to sink St. Louis, which couldn't mount a comeback against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. After serving up a two-run homer to Marcell Ozuna on his 12th pitch, Hendricks went on to retire 17 straight to end his seven-inning night.
"One thing about Hendricks, he has a high ERA [8.59] in the first inning. We tried to take advantage of that, and we did," Shildt said. "He settled in and started making some real quality pitches, started getting his changeup going, which I thought was his best pitch."
All eight runs the Cardinals scored over the weekend came in the first inning.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Having gone 152 plate appearances between home runs before his grand slam Saturday, Ozuna clubbed a homer in his first-inning at-bat Sunday. The two-run shot gave the Cardinals a temporary lead and came on a ball that, according to Statcast™, had an 11 percent hit probability. The blast had the lowest exit velocity (93 mph) and shortest distance (366 feet) of the dozen homers Ozuna has hit this year.
"I wasn't looking for [a home run]," said Ozuna, whose eight home runs at Busch Stadium rank second-most on the club. "[I'm] just [trying] to drive [Molina] in with two outs. It just turned out that a home run was better than tying the game."
With a relief appearance by Tyler Webb on Sunday, the Cardinals have used a franchise-record 27 pitchers already this season. Their previous high (26) was set in 2002. Pitching appearances by infielders Greg Garcia and Jedd Gyorko are included in the club's total.
HE SAID IT
"You're talking about a tremendous performance by our bullpen the whole series. Now you're starting to lengthen this bullpen out a little bit, and it's super encouraging." -- Shildt, on his revamped bullpen not allowing an earned run in the series
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The fifth inning may have transpired much differently had the Cardinals been successful with their replay review on David Bote's one-out single. First-base umpire Jerry Layne, indicating that first baseman Matt Carpenter came off the base to catch the throw, ruled Bote safe on the infield hit off starter John Gant. The call stood following a two-minute, 20-second review.
The Cardinals plan to activate right-hander Carlos Martinez from the 10-day disabled list so he can make the start Monday in the opening game of a four-game series against the Rockies. First pitch from Busch Stadium is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT. Martinez missed one start after straining his right oblique muscle in a July 19 outing at Wrigley Field.