The St. Louis Cardinals are looking to bolster their lead for the second wild-card spot for a second straight day, but they might like to do it in easier fashion.
After winning the second of back-to-back extra-inning games, the Cardinals seek two straight road victories for the first time in nearly a month while Kyle Lohse looks to set a career high for wins Sunday against the Chicago Cubs .
St. Louis (81-71) rallied for a 5-4 win in 10 innings at Wrigley Field on Saturday, as Carlos Beltran hit a tying solo homer in the ninth and Jon Jay had an RBI double in the next inning. A day earlier, the Cubs won 5-4 in 11 innings after Darwin Barney hit a tying two-run homer off Fernando Salas with two outs in the ninth.
The Cardinals increased their lead for the second wild-card berth Saturday as all of their closest pursuers lost. They moved 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee, three in front of Los Angeles and four over Philadelphia.
"Every win is important and every game is important," Jay said. "Tomorrow is the biggest game of the year."
Saturday's win was the Cardinals' fifth in six games but only the fourth in their past 15 on the road. They snapped a three-game skid at Wrigley, where they are 3-5 this season and have lost their last three series.
St. Louis hasn't won more than two consecutive road games since the All-Star break, the last time being Aug. 26-27.
The Cardinals should have a good chance behind Lohse (15-3, 2.71 ERA), the major league leader in winning percentage.
After having an eight-game win streak snapped Sept. 12 in San Diego, the right-hander rebounded with seven scoreless innings in a 4-1 home win over Houston on Tuesday. Lohse matched a career high with his 15th win, set during his first season with St. Louis in 2008.
"He was in position to have many more wins than 15 right now," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's thriving on being that guy for us, to really set the bar for the rest of the starters."
Lohse, among the NL's ERA leaders, earned one of his wins July 20 when he last faced the Cubs, allowing one run in seven innings of a 4-1 victory.
The Cardinals have won each of his last five outings against Chicago, but none of those came at Wrigley. He hasn't pitched there since a pair of starts in 2009, allowing four runs over five innings each time as the Cardinals lost both.
The right-hander might not have All-Star catcher Yadier Molina to help him out. Molina left in the ninth inning Saturday with back spasms after trying to avoid getting hit by a pitch from Carlos Marmol .
"I'm a little worried because any time it's your back, it's better to take one or two days off and finish strong," Molina said.
The Cubs (59-93) will send out Justin Germano (2-8, 6.17), who is 0-6 with an 8.16 ERA over his last six starts. The right-hander, though, has allowed a combined four runs and six hits in 10 innings over his last two outings.
The right-hander won his only start against St. Louis on May 13, 2007, while with San Diego.
Matt Holliday , hitting .424 in his last nine games against the Cubs, is 7 for 14 with four doubles and a home run against Germano. David DeJesus is 11 for 23 (.478) against Lohse, and Alfonso Soriano is 18 for 50 (.360) with three homers.
The Cubs, who have lost five of six, need to win four of their final 10 games to avoid the third 100-loss season in franchise history and first since 1966.
"Every win counts," pitcher Travis Wood said. "We're battling as hard as we can."
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|September 09, 2012||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Swollen left ankle|
|September 09, 2012||Matt Carpenter||Day-to-Day||Cut hand|
|September 09, 2012||Jake Westbrook||Day-to-Day||Strained right oblique|
|August 31, 2012||Rafael Furcal||15-Day DL||Torn UCL, right elbow - out for season|
|August 30, 2012||Rafael Furcal||Day-to-Day||Left game - right elbow strain|
|August 28, 2012||Yadier Molina||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained upper back|
|September 11, 2012||Anthony Rizzo||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 07, 2012||Blake Parker||60-Day DL||Bone contusion in right elbow|
|September 07, 2012||Brett Jackson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right knee|
|July 28, 2012||Matt Garza||60-Day DL||Stress reaction, right elbow|
|July 21, 2012||Matt Garza||Day-to-Day||Left game - right triceps cramp|
|June 16, 2012||Ryan Dempster||15-Day DL||Right lat tightness|
CHICAGO (AP) -- Pete Kozma picked a big spot for his first major league home run.
Kozma had two hits and drove in two runs to help Kyle Lohse and the short-handed St. Louis Cardinals win for the sixth time in seven games, holding their lead in the NL wild-card race with a 6-3 win Sunday over the Chicago Cubs .
Minus All-Stars Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran from the starting lineup, the Cardinals stayed 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot.
Kozma homered in the sixth inning to give his team a 4-2 lead, and added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in St. Louis' two-run eighth.
"Every game means something," Kozma said. "I feel pretty good getting in there every day and working out the jitters."
A quick-thinking Cardinals fan, Jeff Barabasz, caught the ball and immediately sat on it. He gave a decoy ball to his 13-year-old son, Matthew, who threw it back onto the field to appease the Wrigley Field faithful.
They met Kozma after the game to return the real home run ball, posing for pictures with the 24-year-old.
"That was pretty cool," Kozma said. "It's also big to help your team out in a big spot."
Kozma was called up when shortstop Rafael Furcal went down with a strained right elbow at the end of August and has impressed manager Mike Matheny , earning regular playing time.
"I've been impressed with the way he moves around shortstop, and he's taken good at-bats for us," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's had tough at-bats. That eight-hole is not an easy place to be. He's done a nice job with the opportunities he's had."
Closer Jason Motte also kept a souvenir from the game after recording his 40th save.
Motte joins Bruce Sutter , Lee Smith and Jason Isringhausen as the only closers in Cardinals history to post a 40-save season.
Motte has six saves in the team's last seven games.
"If I'm out there converting saves, that means we're winning," Motte said. "That's what it's about, it's about winning."
Lohse (16-3) made his team-leading 32nd start, giving up three runs and five hits in six innings.
Molina did not play for the defending World Series champions because of lower back spasms, having hurt himself while getting out of the way of a pitch Saturday. The catcher was feeling better, manager Mike Matheny said, still had some discomfort.
Beltran did not start because of what Matheny believed to be food poisoning. The outfielder had a pinch-hit RBI single during a two-run eighth.
He didn't join the team in the dugout until the fifth inning, and went to the plate without any warm-up swings.
Allen Craig got three hits and drove in two runs for St. Louis.
"The more I watch him, the more I'm impressed," Matheny said of Craig. "Everything about him."
Cubs starter Justin Germano (2-9) worked 5 2-3 innings, giving up four earned runs and 10 hits.
Craig hit a two-run double with two outs in the third and David Freese had an RBI single. St. Louis would have had the bases loaded for Craig, but a baserunning mistake found both Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday on third base and Carpenter was tagged out.
Alfonso Soriano hit his 31st homer for the Cubs, giving him a career-high 105 RBIs.
"He just keeps going, he's had to play a lot of games this year with very few days off," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's done one heck of a job -- left field, at the plate and everything about this season has been one of his best."
Chicago got two runs back in the fourth on Welington Castillo 's RBI double and a wild pitch.
NOTES: The Cubs saluted retired pitcher Kerry Wood in pregame ceremonies. Wood, a 12-year Cubs veteran and 1998 NL Rookie of the Year, retired in May with the third-most strikeouts in team history (1,470). "I was fortunate to call Wrigley Field my home," he said. "A lot of great memories and a lot of great moments." . The Cardinals head to Houston, where Lance Lynn (16-7, 3.79) will take the mound opposite Fernando Abad (0-5, 5.11) on Monday. . Chris Rusin (1-2, 6.00) pitches the series opener for the Cubs in Colorado on Monday against the Rockies' Jorge De La Rosa (0-1, 12.27). ... Outfielder Matt Holliday left in the ninth inning when his back tightened up. Holliday said it's something he's dealt with a couple times this season, noting it's not as bad as previous instances.