By KURT VOIGT, AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — For the St. Louis Cardinals, there’s more importance to their early season games with the Chicago Cubs this year than most seasons.
The games are about St. Louis putting to rest any leftover doubts after a dismal 5-14 record against its rival a year ago.
The Cardinals showed on Saturday they aren’t about to just lie down and let the Cubs cruise to a third straight National League Central title. Kolten Wong hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning to cap an 8-6 win, one which had all the back-and-forth of a postseason affair rather than an early May contest.
Wong’s game-ending blast put the finishing touch on a game in which St. Louis trailed 4-0 after one inning and by two runs entering the bottom of the ninth. Both times the Cardinals recovered on their way to a fourth straight win, along with wining for the third time in four games against Chicago this season.
“I’ve never (played) in the World Series or those kinds of games,” St. Louis outfielder Marcell Ozuna said. “This feels like more than a regular game.”
Ozuna tied the game in the ninth inning with a two-run double off Chicago closer Brandon Morrow, who allowed his first runs of the season. An inning later, it was Wong who sent a 1-1 pitcher from Luke Farrell (1-1) into the right field seats for the game winner.
“We would have loved a double, and the homer was even better,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.
Wong’s game-ending home run is the third of his career, his first since a victory over Pittsburgh on May 3, 2015.
The blast made a winner out of reliever Tyler Lyons (1-0), and it sent Chicago to a season-worst fourth loss in a row. Anthony Rizzo homered for a third time in four games for the Cubs, who lost despite scoring more than three runs in a game for the first time since April 24th.
Javier Baez added his eighth home run in the loss for Chicago, which had won five games in a row before its current losing stretch.
“They’re a good team, they’re always a good team,” Rizzo said. “They put together hits, they put together rallies and it’s a good group of guys and they play hard.”
Center fielder Tommy Pham, catcher Yadier Molina and Norris were all taken out of Saturday’s game with injuries. Pham, who is hitting .327 and has scored 24 runs this season, was taken out in the second inning with right groin tightness. Molina was lifted in the eighth inning after being hit in the groin by a tipped 102-mph pitch from reliever Jordan Hicks, and Norris had to exit after getting the first two outs of the 10th because of tightness in his triceps. Matheny said all three would be evaluated on Sunday.
Chicago had been 14-0 when leading after six innings this season, thanks in large part to a bullpen that was third in the National League with a combined 2.57 ERA. Morrow had thrown 10 scoreless innings in his first season with the Cubs before allowing the two ninth-inning runs on Saturday, and the runs ended his overall scoreless streak of 18 1/3 innings that dated back to last season.
Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood walked five batters while allowing three earned runs in four innings of work. The former Colorado Rockies starter has now walked 27 batters in 32 2/3 innings this season, though his ERA still stands at a respectable 3.31. “It’s delivery-related because he’s pretty tough,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon said. “I just think he needs to find that rhythm.”
Cubs: Chicago manager Joe Maddon said there was no updated on the progress of reliever Eddie Butler, who has been on the disabled list since April 20th with a right groin strain. Butler is 0-1 with a 4.30 ERA in six games this season.
Cardinals: St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said reliever Dominic Leone is likely headed to the disabled list after exiting Friday night’s game during warmups with cramping in his right biceps. Matheny said Leone’s arm is “structurally” healthy, and that the Cardinals wanted to wait a day before making a roster move to see how Leone responded. Leone is 1-2 with a 4.15 ERA in 15 appearances this season.
Cubs: Jon Lester (3-2, 2.73 ERA) didn’t allow an earned run 5 2/3 innings in his last start, a Chicago win over Colorado. The left-hander will try and continue his resurgent season when the Cubs close out their series against St. Louis on Sunday night.
Cardinals: Michael Wacha has allowed two or fewer runs in four of his last five starts, and he’ll get the start for St. Louis against the Cubs on Sunday night. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.62 ERA this season.
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