CHICAGO (AP)—Fernando Vina is making up for his homer drought in a hurry.
Vina hit his third career grand slam Friday as the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 6-3 to snap a four-game losing streak. After going 501 at-bats without a homer, he has three in his last seven games.
“He chose the wrong time, for us, to get hot,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Jeff Fassero pitched the ninth against his old team to earn his first save of the year.
Corey Patterson and Moises Alou hit solo home runs, but it wasn’t enough for the Cubs, who stranded seven, four in scoring position. Carlos Zambrano, pitching a day after his wife gave birth to their second child, gave up six runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings.
“I was just trying to throw the ball inside. It was a very good pitch, but I think he was waiting for that,” said Zambrano (3-3). “That was a big mistake. Especially in this series, you can’t make a mistake.”
With less than 300 miles separating St. Louis and Chicago, the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is one of the game’s best. Fans are always passionate, wearing their team colors proudly, packing the stadium and loudly booing the opponent.
And this year’s meetings have added spice. The Cardinals won seven straight to pull into a first-place tie with Chicago. But after a dismal 0-for-4 trip to Cincinnati, St. Louis arrived 1 1/2 games back.
It may only be May, but it’s never too early to start keeping an eye on the division-standing flags above the Wrigley Field scoreboard.
“It’s a rivalry game and we really needed this game,” Vina said. “There is a lot of electricity in this stadium. The fans here make it such a great place to play.”
And Vina and the Cardinals took advantage of that hospitality, staging a two-out rally in the second. Edgar Renteria started it with an infield single, and Mike Matheny drew a walk. Morris then singled up the middle to load the bases.
That brought up Vina, who blasted the first pitch he saw. With a little extra push from the wind, the ball landed in the right-field bleachers for a grand slam.
“To get a big lead for Morris early is big for us,” Vina said. “It doesn’t relieve all of the pressure, but it relieves some of the pressure on him.”
Zambrano allowed only two hits over the next five innings, giving the Cubs a chance to rally. Patterson homered in the second inning, and Alou led off the fourth with a homer, a monster shot that hit Waveland Avenue and pulled the Cubs within 4-3.
Chicago had a chance to add on a couple more runs when Morris loaded the bases by walking Paul Bako, but Zambrano grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Cardinals gave Morris a couple of insurance runs in the eighth. Taking a pitch on a 3-1 count, Drew thought it was a ball and tossed his bat as if to go to first on a walk. But home plate umpire Mike Winters called it a strike. Drew and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa argued the call, and La Russa got tossed.
It ended up being a fuss over nothing, as Drew homered to center on the 3-2 pitch.
“They got that big hit, but we came back, cut it to a one-run deficit. We just couldn’t quite pull even,” Patterson said. “I’m very happy we did come back, we didn’t give up. We held them there for a little bit to make the game close. We could have easily just packed it in and gave up, but we didn’t dothat.”
It was the second time this season La Russa has been ejected. … Vina’s last grand slam was on May 26, 2002, against Pittsburgh. … Patterson was 3-for-4 while Alou was 2-for-3. … The crowd of 38,531 was the largest of the season so far at Wrigley Field. … Morris has worked six or more inningsin all of his eight starts.