Cubs 5, Cardinals 3
CHICAGO (AP)—There was disappointment, frustration. Beyond that, there was patience in the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse because the players realize the celebration is coming.
One day after the Cardinals clinched their fourth NL Central title in six years, the champagne remained corked again after Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
While the Cardinals (94-55) would win the division on a tiebreaker over second-place Houston if both teams finish with 94 wins, St. Louis refuses to celebrate until it is assured of more wins that the Astros.
“Eventually, it’s going to happen,” third baseman Abraham Nunez said.
The Astros beat Milwaukee 2-1 Friday night. The Cardinals hope their celebration comes Saturday when they face the Cubs’ Greg Maddux.
“Hopefully, they don’t have me come over and clean it up,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
Burnitz was 2-for-3 with three RBIs, including the go-ahead two-run single in the fifth, and Lee hit his 44th homer, a solo shot in the first inning.
The Cardinals’ Jim Edmonds hit his 28th home run in the top of the first.
Ryan Dempster pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 30 attempts.
Matt Morris (14-9) lost his fourth straight start and fell to 0-4 against the Cubs, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings.
With the Cardinals leading 3-2, Rusch and Murton started the fifth with singles, and Neifi Perez laid down a sacrifice bunt. The Cardinals intentionally walked Lee, the majors’ leading hitter, to load the bases and Burnitz singled to right for a 4-3 lead.
Lee was thrown out at third, and Nomar Garciaparra grounded into an inning-ending fielder’s choice. But Murton’s single bothered Morris.
“Glendon Rusch is a pretty good hitter for a pitcher, took a good at-bat and bounced one over my head,” he said. “Murton’s at-bat really ticked me off. I’d like to take that back. Ahead in the count, I threw him a curveball. I had a couple other pitches I should have thrown. … All of a sudden, it’s first and second.”
Burnitz added an RBI single with two outs in the seventh, putting runners on first and second, but Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina picked him off.
The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, were the first to clinch a playoff spot this season and are eyeing a return to the World Series after being swept last year by Boston.
Six more victories would give St. Louis 100 in consecutive seasons for the second time in franchise history and first since a run of three straight from 1942-44.
The Cardinals have done this despite seeing their everyday lineup get wrecked by injuries. David Eckstein, Pujols and Edmonds are the only opening-day position players to stay healthy.
Third baseman Scott Rolen tore a capsule in his left shoulder in a collision with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Hee-Seop Choi in May and underwent season-ending surgery late last month. Outfielders Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker missed significant chunks of the season. Walker missed 26 games while on the disabled list with a herniated disc that required three cortisone shots around the spine. Sanders, who returned this week after missing 54 games with a fractured right fibula, left the game in the fifth and was 0-for-3.
Cubs LF Jerry Hairston was ejected after the bottom of the third for arguing a strike call with first base umpire Larry Vanover. Hairston, who tried to pull back after squaring to bunt, argued with Vanover between innings and was ejected by crew chief Randy Marsh. … Cubs C Michael Barrett, who missed Thursday’s game after being hit in the head by a pitch from Cincinnati’s Matt Belisle on Wednesday night, was out of the lineup again on Friday. A CT scan on Thursday showed no damage. But Baker said he went for more tests on Friday. “They’re not worried about him getting hit with a thrown ball,” Baker said. “They’re more worried about him getting hit with a foul tip, which catchers tend to get quite a bit, so they didn’t want to take a chance.” … The Cardinals’ Sanders and 2B Mark Grudzielanek, who returned this week from injuries, were back in the lineup Friday after being held out of Thursday’s game against the Cubs due to cool, rainy weather. Grudzielanek returned Wednesday after missing seven with a sore back.