CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Cubs once again relied on their potent offense as they advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 12 years with a 6-4 victory over the top-seeded St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday.
Fresh from a six-homer, 8-6 win in Game Three on Monday, the Cubs thrilled an energised home crowd at Wrigley Field with their batters blasting three more home runs as they clinched the best-of-five Division Series 3-1.
Seeking to end a 107-year wait for a World Series title, Chicago delighted their long-suffering fans as Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber all clubbed homers to set up the club’s first post-season series win at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs, who used seven relief pitchers, will next face either the New York Mets or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Championship Series which is scheduled to start on Saturday.
“We just played an unbelievable ballclub right there,” an emotional Rizzo, who hit a go-ahead solo homer in the sixth inning, said in an on-field television interview.
“We gave it our all, they gave it their all. It was just a battle.”
Asked how significant it was for the fans that the Cubs had finally clinched a post-season series at Wrigley Field, Rizzo replied: ”They deserve it. They deserve it. Hopefully this is just a taste of what’s going to come.
“We’re going to enjoy this. The whole city is going to enjoy this together, as we should. We just beat the best team in baseball. We’re going to celebrate this.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon applauded the gritty display of his relievers after they shut down the Cardinals over the final three innings.
”The whole group showed great composure,“ said Maddon. ”But you’ve got to know the Cardinals never quit ... and they’re going to fight until the last out.
“Early in this season they beat us just based on that. Fortunately our relievers kept it together. To do this in front of our home crowd, it’s special.”
The Cardinals struck first when Stephen Piscotty blasted a two-run homer to center field off Jason Hammel in the top of the first.
Hammel singled to center field for Starlin Castro to score in the bottom of the second before shortstop Baez blasted a three-run homer for the Cubs to lead 4-2.
Reliever Trevor Cahill came on for the Cubs in the sixth and began well before giving up a two-strike, two-out double to Tony Cruz as Jason Heyward scored to make it 4-3.
Brandon Moss then drove in Jhonny Peralta to tie it at 4-4 before the inning ended when Cruz was cut down at the plate on a superb throw from right fielder Jorge Soler.
Again, the Cubs’ offense responded. Rizzo lined a homer to right in the sixth before Schwarber powered a shot over the scoreboard in right field to put the Cubs ahead 6-4 in the seventh.
Closer Hector Rondon replaced Pedro Strop in the ninth and earned the save after allowing a baserunner but no runs as the Wrigley Field fans erupted in celebration.
It was a bitterly disappointing end to the 2015 campaign for the Cardinals, who posted a league-best record of 100-62 in pursuit of a third trip to the World Series in five years.
”The guys fought back into this game after having a good lead early,“ said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. ”The long ball really made us pay the last two days.
“This team (Chicago) plays well in this park. We had the same conditions, the same stadium. We could have made it happen. We came up just a little short.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue/Greg Stutchbury