Cubs' Ninth-Inning Rally Stuns Cardinals 3-2 (No, Really!)

Alfonso Soriano and Tony Campana of the Chicago Cubs run out onto the field to celebrate with teammate Joe Mather after he hit a game-winning RBI single scoring Geovany Soto and Bryan LaHair against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 3-2. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Well, that was unexpected.

Joe Mather's single, bouncing slowly up the middle, scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Cubs beat the Cardinals 3-2, their first walkoff win of 2012.

Credit where credit is due: Bryan LaHair had a tremendous at-bat in that inning against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. He ran the count to 3-2 and fouled off six pitches in a row before drawing a pinch-hit walk. That was damned impressive. It must have rattled Motte, because he then walked Geovany Soto; the runners advanced to second and third on a slow roller to first base by Steve Clevenger before Mather's winning single.

The winning celebration in the Wrigley Field infield somehow reminded me of the one here:

And yes, I am well aware that a win making the Cubs 5-12 in what is likely a lost season, is by no means comparable to a World Series win. But the way the Cubs celebrated... man, you'd have thought they won the World Series title Monday night.

Before that, Matt Garza and Jaime Garcia had matched up in a crisply-thrown pitchers' duel. Garza had one rough inning, the fourth, in which he gave up a pair of runs on a single, double and sacrifice fly. He then hit a batter and walked the bases loaded, but pitched out of the jam.

Garza also laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Normally, that's not much worth mentioning, but he only managed to do that five times all last year, and he became the first Cubs pitcher not named "Samardzija" to accomplish that feat in 2012. Garza also singled through the right side with two out in the fifth inning -- the first hit by a Cubs pitcher this season -- but David DeJesus, probably surprised by the near-impossibility of that occurring, struck out.

Garcia was better, giving up just a single run in the first inning and being helped out when the Cubs hit into a pair of double plays. It didn't appear that the Cubs were going to generate any further offense at all, and the Cardinals looked like they might put the game away in the eighth inning when James Russell, who had taken over in the eighth after Garza was lifted after 108 pitches.

Russell issued a pair of one-out walks and Carlos Beltran smashed a line drive that looked like it was heading to center field. Starlin Castro speared it; the runners, who had taken off, were well off base and Shane Robinson was easily doubled off to end the inning. Another double play in the ninth, this one started after a line drive to right was snagged by DeJesus, kept the Cubs in the game, awaiting the final at-bat heroics.

The game was witnessed by far more people than I expected, given the chilly weather, the bad performance of the team, and the Blackhawks playoff game going on. About 27,000 of an announced 37,794 showed up; you couldn't necessarily tell where the small clumps of Cardinals fans were located, because there were many people who showed up wearing red Blackhawks jerseys (not advised when the Cardinals are in town).

Again, a game like this might not mean all that much in the long run. But for one night, at least, the Cubs provided some good baseball, some excitement, and a win over their biggest rival. You can't ask for much more.

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