Cardinals 10, Cubs 6
ST. LOUIS (AP)—For most of his career, Gary Bennett has been a low-profile backup catcher. Not this weekend.
Bennett won a game for St. Louis with two outs in the ninth for the second straight day, hitting a grand slam Sunday night to give the Cardinals a 10-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s 4 years old on Christmas morning, that’s the feeling,” Bennett said. “You’re rounding third and you see everybody jumping up and down.
“Other than the World Series. … I guess that would feel better.”
Bennett hit the game-winning single in a 2-1 victory Saturday and topped that with his first career grand slam off Bob Howry (3-5). It’s his second career game-winning homer and the Cardinals’ first game-winning slam since David Eckstein beat the Braves on Aug. 7, 2005.
“I’ve been in a lot of pennant races and you always have some unlikely heroes,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “Gary Bennett was the hero of this series.
“He’s about as hot as I’ve ever seen him. Dang!”
It was the fourth homer of the year for Bennett. All have come since Aug. 18.
“What a weekend he’s had,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “We did a lot of little things really well, and some big things.”
The Cardinals rebounded after getting swept by the Mets in a three-game series at New York and pulled from a virtual tie in the NL Central entering the weekend to a three-game lead over Cincinnati.
St. Louis beat up on 29-year-old rookie Les Walrond, a Cardinals 13th-round draft pick in 1998 who didn’t make it out of the third in his first career start, although Jeff Weaver failed to hold a 6-3 lead.
Jacque Jones homered for the Cubs but also committed a three-base fielding error that allowed Scott Rolen to circle the bases on an RBI single in the first. The Cubs, who swept the Cardinals in two earlier series, finished 11-8 against St. Louis but have lost seven of eight overall.
Albert Pujols singled to start the ninth and he was running on the pitch on Rolen’s groundout up the middle, sliding in safely to avoid a double play. Juan Encarnacion beat out an infield hit for his fourth single as Pujols advanced on shortstop Ronny Cedeno’s throw, and Ronnie Belliard walked to load the bases.
Aaron Miles grounded into a force play at home with the Cubs’ defense playing in before Bennett, getting regular duty with starting catcher Yadier Molina sidelined by a strained right elbow, hit a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall. Bennett was 7-for-10 in the series.
“I threw a pitch down the middle of the plate to their hottest hitter,” Howry said. “And he hit it out.”
Braden Looper (7-1) worked a scoreless ninth for St. Louis.
Weaver allowed five runs on seven hits in 6 1-3 innings. In his last start, he coughed up all but two runs of a six-run cushion and got no decision in a loss at New York. He did help himself against the Cubs with a two-run single during St. Louis’ four-run third.
Several big plays by the Cardinals’ defense made it tough for the Cubs to catch up, including Pujols’ running basket catch of Matt Murton’s pop fly to shallow right and Rolen’s lunging grab of Ramirez’ drive down the third-base line with two on and two outs, both plays coming in the second. Encarnacion added two diving catches, both times denying Cedeno a hit, in the fourth and eighth.
Walrond, recalled from Triple-A Iowa to replace the injured Ryan O’Malley in the rotation, lasted 2 2-3 innings and gave up six runs, five earned, on seven hits. He’s the 18th rookie starter used by the Cubs this month, the most by the franchise since 1902.
Walrond said with a little luck, he wouldn’t have placed such a burden on the bullpen.
“I hated to see those guys come in early,” Walrond said. “That’s the main thing I’m disappointed about.”
Pujols had been an 0-for-16 slump at home, the longest drought of his career according to the Elias Sports Bureau, before reaching on an infield hit in the third. … Jones has committed a career-high six errors, one more than his previous worst in four seasons. … In two starts against the Cubs, Weaver has allowed nine runs on 17 hits in 12 innings with no decisions. … The Cubs have used 14 starters, one shy of the franchise high set in several seasons.