Cubs beat Cardinals to clinch NL Central title
ST. LOUIS — On a late September night in 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals clinched a National League Central title by beating the Chicago Cubs.
As the Cardinals celebrated in their clubhouse, Chicago infielder Donnie Murphy sat at his locker, expressing the hope that one day the Cubs could experience that feeling.
Four years later, Murphy and many of his teammates are no longer around, but his hope that Chicago would earn the right to celebrate has been realized — and then some.
A year after winning their first World Series in 108 years, the Cubs punched their ticket to defend the championship in the place where they watched St. Louis party a few years ago.
Addison Russell belted a three-run homer to key a five-run seventh inning as Chicago wrapped up consecutive division titles with a 5-1 decision over the Cardinals.
Busch Stadium sounded a whole lot like Wrigley Field South during the last three innings. Probably three-fourths of the crowd was dressed in blue by the time St. Louis’ Randal Grichuk flied out to center fielder Leonys Martin on the warning track for the final out.
“I’m telling all the young guys, ‘Don’t put the goggles on.’ It’s your first time; celebrate,” Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta said.
While the scene after the final out was restrained, with some bouncing but not an all-out dog pile near the mound, the team unloosed a pretty raucous celebration in the visitors’ clubhouse. If one didn’t smell like a beer after a couple of minutes in there, it was because he wasn’t trying.
Russell was covered in beer by four or five teammates at one point. It was Chicago’s eighth champagne/beer celebration in the past three seasons, although this one came with its fair share of struggle.
After winning the division by 17 1/2 games last year and clinching in mid-September, the Cubs needed 158 games to repeat.
“It feels pretty good,” Chicago third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I think having to go through the adversity was good for us. I think it will help us in the playoffs.”
Michael Wacha (12-9) quashed the Cubs’ offense for six scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and fanning eight on just 60 pitches. But all six men he faced in the seventh got on safely as Chicago (89-69) took control.
Russell walloped a 2-1 pitch 383 feet down the left field line for his 12th homer of the year. Jason Heyward and Tommy La Stella tacked on RBI doubles before the Cardinals (82-76) recorded an out.
It was Wacha’s third loss of the year to Chicago, which touched him for 19 runs over 22 innings.
“You never want to see guys celebrating on your home field,” he said. “It’s not a very good feeling.”
Not only did St. Louis have to watch its archrival celebrate on its field in a stadium filled with the opponents’ fans, it also reached the brink of elimination for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
Colorado’s 15-9 win over Miami put the Rockies 3 1/2 games up on the Cardinals. St. Louis has to win its remaining four games and hope Colorado is swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a weekend series to force a one-game playoff for the chance to play at Arizona on Wednesday night in the wild-card round.
“We’re getting ready for tomorrow,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “Our season is not over.”
St. Louis managed only two hits off John Lackey (12-11) in six innings, scoring its run on Paul DeJong’s RBI single in the second. Lackey walked two and struck out three.
Lackey is aiming for his fourth World Series title with three different franchises (Angels, Red Sox, Cubs).
“It was tough; we got a lot of people’s best shot,” he said. “But we’re back in the playoffs.”
NOTES: Chicago 2B Javier Baez (left knee) was back in the lineup Wednesday night. Baez didn’t start Tuesday night after leaving the Monday night game in the eighth inning after fouling a pitch off his knee. ... St. Louis C Yadier Molina missed his second straight start after taking consecutive foul balls off the mask Monday night. The team is hopeful that he will return on Thursday night. ... Cardinals LF Tommy Pham (left side contusion) was back in the lineup Wednesday night after leaving the Tuesday night game for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning. ... Cubs RHP Kyle Hendricks (7-5, 3.14 ERA) and Cardinals RHP Lance Lynn (11-8, 3.47) are the probable pitchers for Thursday.