(The Sports Xchange) - The St. Louis Cardinals were able to enjoy clinching their playoff berth a little bit more Sunday after holding off the Chicago Cubs 4-3 to avoid being swept.
Manager Mike Matheny delivered a “quick talk” to his players to recognize their franchise-record fifth straight trip to the postseason.
“We’re excited about it, and it’s not something we take for granted,” said Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who earned his 46th save after throwing 1 1/3 innings. “Obviously, we would love to win the division and bypass the wild card game. Just getting in any way we can is special.”
When the San Francisco Giants lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, the Cardinals officially qualified for the playoffs.
Center fielder Tommy Pham and left fielder Stephen Piscotty homered as the Cardinals snapped Chicago’s five-game winning streak on Sunday.
The Cubs pulled to within one when infielder Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk against reliever Jonathan Broxton in the eighth.
After Seth Maness replaced Broxton, Jason Heyward caught shortstop Addison Russell’s fly ball and threw out Anthony Rizzo at the plate to prevent the tying run.
“This guy’s a great defender,” Matheny said of Heyward. “He comes up throwing, it’s very accurate and has a lot of velocity to it. He’s just an all-around very good player.”
Catcher Yodier Molina was injured on the play at the plate and later exited in the ninth due to a sprained left thumb. He is expected to be evaluated on Monday.
Starlin Castro singled to start the Cubs ninth, but pinch runner Quintin Berry was caught stealing. Rosenthal then got a strikeout and groundout to seal the victory.
The Cubs were trying for their first sweep of St. Louis since 2010 and are now two games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners at the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, for the first wild card spot.
Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez (14-7) allowed two runs, struck out six and walked three in 6 2/3 innings.
Cubs starter Jon Lester (10-11) gave up four runs in six innings.
The Cardinals scored three runs in the first inning for their first lead of the series. Pham hit a solo shot for his fifth home run.
“They just ambushed (Lester) early,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “After that, I thought he had really good stuff. The homer-homer, just give them credit. They came out, and they were ready to go.”
Rizzo’s two-run single cut the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the third. Martinez gestured that he should have received a third-strike call against right fielder Chris Coghlan. He ended up walking Coghlan to bring up Rizzo.
Upon umpire review, Cubs pinch hitter Starlin Castro was awarded first base after a pitch from Martinez grazed his right arm in the seventh. Castro was the seventh hit batter in the tense series. Center fielder Dexter Fowler then singled, but left fielder Kyle Schwarber grounded out against new reliever Kevin Siegrist.
Maddon remained upbeat about his young team.
“I could not be more proud of our guys. It’s obvious that we are playing on the same level as (the Cardinals) are right now,” Maddon said. “Now we know we can beat them and they know we can beat them too, and that’s a good thing.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford