CHICAGO – Yadier Molina had a simple goal for his ninth-inning at-bat with the bases loaded and the score tied on Sunday.
“I was looking not to strike out,” he said.
After fouling off some tough two-strike pitches, Molina hit a ground-ball single up the middle to drive in two runs and the St. Louis Cardinals snapped out of an offensive funk with a 5-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“I got a little lucky that they were playing me to pull,” Molina said. “It was a good at-bat. I was able to put the ball in play and good things happened.”
The defending National League champions had lost four of five to fall a game below .500. The Cardinals scored all their runs with two outs.
Molina, moved into the No. 2 spot to jump start the lineup, was 0 for 4 before coming through in the ninth.
But it was a wild pitch in the seventh inning that allowed the Cubs to tie the score at 3 that had Molina more frustrated. The pitch from reliever Carlos Martinez was in the dirt and trickled through Molina’s legs, allowing Luis Valbuena to score.
“I was there,” Molina said. “I don’t know. It’s one of those things. I was ready for it and the ball still goes through my legs.”
Kevin Siegrist (1-1) got the win in relief, while Trevor Rosenthal picked up his eighth save in as many opportunities despite a scare in the ninth inning.
Hector Randon (0-1) took the loss for the Cubs, who were attempting to win four straight games for the first time since July.
While Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had looked for Molina, one of his hottest hitters, to get the offense going, it was a couple of struggling batters at the bottom of the lineup that got things started early.
With two outs in the second inning and Jhonny Peralta on first base, Randal Grichuk drilled a triple into the right-center field gap for a 1-0 lead. Mark Ellis, who went 3 for 4, followed with a double to left-center to make it 2-0.
Both Grichuk (.167) and Ellis (.143) entered hitting well below .200.
St. Louis stretched the lead to 3-0 in the third as Matt Adams doubled home Matt Holiday.
The Cubs pulled within 3-2 in the fourth with some clutch two-out hitting. With one out, Ryan Kalish singled and John Baker walked. After a groundout moved the runners to second and third, Cubs starter Jason Hammel singled to right to drive in both.
Molina’s go-ahead single to center came on the sixth pitch of the at-bat from Randon.
“I thought I made a good pitch today, but something happened,” Randon said.
Molina seemed more relieved that the wild pitch wasn’t a factor than he drove in the game-deciding runs.
“(Molina) does a good job of not wearing his emotions and how frustrating that is for him,” Matheny said. “It’s hard to count the number of balls he keeps in front of him, the number of runs he saves. It’s something we don’t take for granted.”
Valbuena doubled in a run with two outs in the ninth to make it 5-4, but Rosenthal got Anthony Rizzo to ground out to end the game.
“Guys kept grinding it out,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We just fell a little short.”