The majors’ last game before the All-Star break sure had a familiar feel for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Molina hit a three-run homer in St. Louis’ four-run ninth inning, and the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 10-6 on Sunday night.
“We never give up,” Molina said. “Whatever happens in the game or the inning before we’re going to come after you.”
Craig lined a tiebreaking RBI single into left field before Molina drove an 0-2 pitch from Kevin Gregg (2-2) over the wall in left for his seventh homer. Pete Kozma added three hits and two RBIs as St. Louis finished with a season-high 21 hits.
Chicago went up 4-3 on Darwin Barney’s three-run homer off Adam Wainwright in the sixth, and pinch hitter Cody Ransom had a tying two-run double in the eighth. But the Cubs’ bullpen was unable to hold off the NL’s highest-scoring team.
“Obviously we lost, but I mean we showed a lot of fight,” Barney said. “We showed maybe what kind of character we have in those kind of games.”
The Cardinals won for the seventh time in nine games to salvage a split of the four-game series. Edward Mujica (2-1) had his second blown save opportunity in 28 chances, but managed to get the win on the same day he was chosen to replace Wainwright on the NL All-Star team.
Despite injuries to key pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte St. Louis heads to the All-Star break with baseball’s best record at 57-36. It leads the NL Central by one game over surprising Pittsburgh, which lost 4-2 to the New York Mets earlier in the day.
“I can’t express how proud I am the way these guys play the game,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It was a very fitting way to end before the break.”
A big reason for St. Louis’ success is the play of Craig and Molina, who are both headed to New York for Tuesday night’s game at Citi Field. Craig is batting .489 (44 for 90) with runners in scoring position and leads the team with 74 RBIs. Molina leads the NL with a .341 batting average while playing his usual strong defense behind the plate.
Wainwright, who allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings, said he thinks Molina is baseball’s best all-around player.
“What can you say?” Wainwright said. “He gets the big hits when he needs to and he calls great games.”
Barney also had a run-scoring single for the Cubs, who went 6-4 on a 10-game stretch in Chicago that included a makeup game at the crosstown White Sox last Monday. The four RBIs for Barney matched a career high set in a 14-4 victory against Pittsburgh on July 30, 2012.
After a slow start, the Cubs (42-51) are a respectable 24-21 in their last 45 games. It’s good enough for a four-game improvement compared to last year at this point, when the North Siders were 38-55 on their way to their first 100-loss season since 1966.
“It’s a half that could have gone a lot different, but I think a lot of guys have progressed, kind of taken strides in the right way,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo who committed a mental gaffe in the eighth when he cut off a ball that might have got a runner at the plate.
Travis Wood who will represent the Cubs at the All-Star festivities, allowed three runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. It matched the shortest outing of the year for the consistent lefty, who pitched at least six innings in 17 of his first 18 starts.
Molina was out of the starting lineup for St. Louis’ 6-4 loss on Saturday night and began the night in a 1-for-19 rut covering his previous seven games. But he singled in each of his first two at-bats, hit a leadoff double in the seventh and forced Bogusevic to make a leaping catch against the wall in center in the eighth.
“Tonight was me,” Molina said. “Tonight I saw the ball pretty good and I made contact pretty solid.”
NOTES: Cardinals OF Matt Holliday (right hamstring tightness) missed his third consecutive game. “We need to be real careful so we can continue to progress, make sure we are aiming for that first day after the break,” Matheny said. … OF Cole Gillespie joined the Cubs, and reliever Henry Rodriguez was designated for assignment to make room on the roster. Gillespie was claimed off waivers from San Francisco on Saturday. He had a pinch-hit single in the eighth. … Cubs RHP Scott Baker allowed four runs and six hits in three innings in his first rehab start with Class A Kane County. Baker missed last season with Minnesota after undergoing elbow-ligament replacement surgery. “Today was a big hump, to pitch against hitters and getting in a real game and the whole atmosphere and everything,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap