August 27, 2017 / 2:29 AM / in 10 months

Pham's walkoff homer lifts Cardinals past Rays

Pham’s walkoff homer lifts Cardinals past Rays

ST. LOUIS — Like the ball he hit in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night, Tommy Pham was in a hurry to leave Busch Stadium.

“Mayweather, man,” he said, referring to the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. “Got to go support him.”

Pham came up with a knockout punch of his own, belting the first walkoff homer of his career to lift the St. Louis Cardinals to a desperately needed 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Pham’s 17th homer of the year came off a low 2-2 slider from Brad Boxberger (3-4). The pitch was perhaps shin-high by the time Pham golfed it 419 feet into the seats in left-center field with Matt Carpenter aboard after a leadoff infield hit.

Asked if he thought he had won the game when the ball left his bat, Pham responded succinctly.

“Gone,” he said. “Gone.”

And at least for another night, St. Louis’ playoff hopes received a boost. It was just the fourth win in 12 games for the Cardinals (65-64), who remained 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central and five games in back of Colorado for the NL’s second wild-card spot.

St. Louis overcame a few obstacles on the way to this victory. Starter Mike Leake put it in a 3-0 hole by the fourth inning, allowing a two-run homer to Lucas Duda in the first and a solo shot off Corey Dickerson’s bat in the fourth.

What’s more, the Cardinals couldn’t crack the code on Blake Snell for five innings. He threw just 60 pitches in that span, allowing only two hits and a walk.

But St. Louis got something going in the sixth, aided by Dickerson’s inability to win two one-on-one battles with the ball. With Pham on first after a one-out walk, Paul DeJong’s double to the left field corner became a triple when Dickerson whiffed the carom.

With two outs, Yadier Molina’s fly ball to left-center field looked like an inning-ender. But Dickerson appeared to lose the ball in the lights and Kevin Kiermaier’s diving attempt came up with air, gifting Molina an RBI double to move the Cardinals within 3-2.

Adeiny Hechavarria’s solo blast in the seventh, his third of the year, restored a two-run margin for the Rays (64-67). However, Tampa Bay’s taxed bullpen, which logged 15 1/3 innings in the last three games, couldn’t make Snell’s seven-inning gem hold up.

Molina’s two-out single past a diving Duda at first plated Pham in the eighth to make it 4-3. Three more singles followed. Kolten Wong’s hit scored Molina and should have scored Jedd Gyorko with the go-ahead run.

But Gyorko pulled his right hamstring rounding third and limped back to the bag before hobbling off the field. Instead of a lead, St. Louis took a tie to the ninth after pinch-hitter Greg Garcia lined out to Dickerson.

Still, momentum was on its side, and Tyler Lyons (2-0) reinforced it with a clean ninth. That set the stage for Carpenter’s bloop and Pham’s blast.

“Just a fantastic season,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Pham. “He’s got the kind of power to do what we saw right there.”

While the Cardinals celebrated one of their most dramatic wins this year, the Rays mourned a game that appeared to be headed for their win column.

Tampa Bay missed on a chance to move within two games of Minnesota for the American League’s second wild-card spot after the Twins lost 10-9 in Toronto.

“This stinks. This is a game we had,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We should have won and we didn’t.”

Snell gave up just four hits and two runs in seven innings, walking three and fanning seven. Leake yielded six hits and four runs in seven innings with no walks and three strikeouts.

NOTES: St. Louis CF Dexter Fowler (illness) was sent home by the club after arriving at the clubhouse. The team was worried that Fowler was contagious, so they played with a three-man bench. ... Tampa Bay INF Brad Miller (shoulder contusion), who didn’t start Friday night after being drilled with a pitch against Toronto on Thursday, was back in the lineup. He played second base and batted eighth. ... Cardinals OF Tommy Pham (foot) was back in the lineup, batting second and playing in center. Pham didn’t start Friday night but singled as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning.

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