Cubs

LIVE: Castro gets 200th as Cubs face Cardinals

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LIVE: Castro gets 200th as Cubs face Cardinals

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 10:34 a.m.

Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals wasted a golden opportunity to tighten the NL wild- card race after a ninth-inning collapse by their bullpen.

While the Chicago Cubs have little left to play for, they'd love to end their archrivals' playoff aspirations.

The Cardinals open a key three-game series with the Cubs on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

St. Louis led by four going into the ninth Thursday against New York before relievers Jason Motte, Marc Rzepczynski and Fernando Salas combined to allow six runs in a stunning 8-6 loss.

"We're trying to play our way into the playoffs and this is when you push," manager Tony La Russa said.

St. Louis, which committed two errors in the ninth, lost for the third time in 16 games. The Cardinals (86-70) trail wild card-leading Atlanta by two games with six left.

"Don't make a mistake and say we're heartbroken," La Russa pointed out. "Our heart's beating. We won the series, get ready for (Friday)."

St. Louis has won eight of 12 against Chicago this year and the bullpen has been especially strong in six home meetings, posting a 1.56 ERA while allowing nine hits, walking one and striking out 15 in 17 1-3 innings.

Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.66 ERA) will try to give the bullpen a break as he looks to end a long winless stretch at home against the Cubs.

The right-hander is 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 10 career starts versus Chicago in St. Louis, but he's 0-2 with a 3.07 ERA in his last four such outings dating to Sept. 20, 2009.

Carpenter pitched well enough to beat the Cubs at Busch Stadium on June 5, allowing two runs over nine innings before St. Louis won 3-2 in 10. He was reached for four runs and a career-worst 13 hits - all singles - in seven innings of a 6-4 victory at Wrigley Field on May 10.

The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner hasn't allowed a run in each of his last two wins. He tossed a four-hitter to defeat Milwaukee 2-0 on Sept. 7 and scattered eight hits over eight innings Sunday in a 5-0 win over Philadelphia.

Slumping Ryan Dempster (10-13, 4.63) will take the ball for the Cubs. The right-hander is 0-5 in his last seven starts.

Dempster has lost each of his last two starts, falling 3-2 to major league-worst Houston on Sunday. He was charged with three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Dempster is 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts at Busch Stadium this year.

Lance Berkman is 3 for 6 with two homers when facing Dempster this season, while Albert Pujols is 2 for 5 with a homer.

Pujols reached base safely for the 38th straight game Thursday, leaving him one shy of matching Tampa Bay's Johnny Damon for the longest run in the majors this year. Pujols, the NL home run leader, needs three more to reach 40 for the seventh time in 11 seasons.

Chicago (69-87) won for the fourth time in six games after Wednesday's 7-1 rout of the NL Central-leading Brewers.

Starlin Castro went 2 for 3, leaving him one hit shy of becoming the first Cub with 200 in a season since Juan Pierre in 2006. At just 21, he would also be the youngest of 16 players in franchise history to reach the milestone.

"We're all anxious to see it happen," teammate Carlos Pena told the Cubs' official website. "It's a very impressive feat to accomplish."

The second-year shortstop is 5 for 27 (.185) in six games in St. Louis this season but 7 for 18 (.389) when facing Carpenter.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: