CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.
Maddon and Lester had a different plan.
"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.
"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"
Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
"It was an amazing night," Ross said.
Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.
The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.
"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."
Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.
Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.
"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."
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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.
It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.
"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.
The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.
Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.
"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."