I wish I could figure out the Cardinals magic pixie dust thing, I really do. The Cubs lost the series opener in St. Louis 3-2 in 10 innings when Peter Bourjos led off with a double, then a ball hit by Kolten Wong hit second base -- nothing Starlin Castro could do about it.
How do they do these things? Did someone in the St. Louis front office sell their collective soul? Maybe don't answer that question.
The Cubs loaded the bases on an intentional walk, still with nobody out, and put in a five-man infield. Justin Grimm got the ground ball he wanted but Mike Baxter (who was playing essentially in the 2B position)'s throw hit Bourjos in the head, game over. (Bourjos might have had the throw beat anyway). The run wound up unearned as Baxter was charged with an error, not that it really matters.
I don't get it. I probably never will get it. Sheesh. Anyway, here's what happened up to that disastrous 10th inning.
It didn't take too long in Friday night's game to see some of that Cardinals pixie dust. Wong led off the bottom of the first inning with a ball that bounced just fair down the left-field line for a double. This sort of thing has been happening to the Cardinals all year. It can't last forever, right?
Well... the Cubs did a pretty good job of stopping things right there. After Wong made it to third on a groundout, the Cubs pulled in the infield and Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder right to Castro, who threw Wong out at the plate.
The Cardinals broke through in the second on a walk to Yadier Molina and a triple by Randal Grichuk to the deepest part of center field. You could tell Dexter Fowler still isn't at 100 percent; a totally healthy Fowler runs that down and holds Grichuk to a double. But again, the Cubs pulled the infield in and Jon Jay ripped a ball sharply at Anthony Rizzo, who threw Grichuk out at the plate.
Nice defense played all around, and then Jake Arrieta took over. He retired 16 of the last 17 Cardinals he faced, throwing seven strong innings and allowing just three hits and two walks, with seven strikeouts. Arrieta's making himself an All-Star candidate with his recent performances.
The Cubs broke through in the fourth. Miguel Montero led off with a walk and Castro singled him to third. Then Mike Baxter followed with an RBI single to right and the game was tied. Arrieta then laid down the second successful sacrifice bunt by a Cubs pitcher this season, advancing the runners to second and third, and Addison Russell had an excellent eight-pitch at-bat, drawing a walk to load the bases, but Fowler hit a soft liner to Wong and the inning was over.
The best thing about that fourth inning, and the fifth even though the Cubs failed to score, was to run up John Lackey's pitch count. He was nearly at 100 pitches through five innings, as the Cubs had three hits in the inning. Kris Bryant, though, overslid second base on a steal attempt and was tagged out, so the Cubs didn't score. Lackey, tiring, gave up a hit to Arrieta -- his first hit of the year.
In the bottom of the sixth Baxter made an outstanding catch on a foul fly by Peralta that was twisting toward the seats. Baxter caught the ball at the wall and dived into the seats, holding on. I've been critical of Baxter, but you know what? He had three hits Friday night and has made some good contributions to this team as the 25th man. He might actually be worth keeping on the 25-man roster, though he's likely heading back to Iowa when Jorge Soler returns from the disabled list.
The Cubs took the lead in the seventh. Fowler doubled to center, on a ball that would easily have been a triple if Fowler had been 100 percent. On the broadcast, you could see Fowler wince as he was running into second base. He advanced to second on a groundout and scored when Bryant hit a fly ball to Jay that was deep enough that no attempt was made to throw the obviously still-hobbled Fowler out.
That all sounds great, right? Except that Pedro Strop coughed up the lead on the fifth pitch he threw, when Greg Garcia homered. Greg who? Garcia is a longtime Cardinals minor-league guy who had 27 homers in 2,318 minor-league plate appearances, and you might remember his only other big-league RBI, in this game May 13, 2014 when he was hit by a Grimm pitch with the bases loaded in the 12th inning. Strop hadn't allowed a run in his previous 11 outings, but he was bad Friday night -- looked like he had no command at all.
Joe Maddon pulled out all the proverbial stops to get out of that inning, calling on former Cardinal Jason Motte (who got his man, Mark Reynolds, on two pitches) and James Russell, who got Jason Heyward to pop up on one pitch. Efficiency! And Hector Rondon was really good throwing a 1-2-3 ninth.
Rizzo was hit by a pitch in the third inning and appeared to be bothered by it for much of the rest of the game. Hope he's OK.
And if someone could explain the things the Cardinals are doing... on second thought, maybe you shouldn't.
Saturday evening, the Cubs will try to even up this set with Donn Roach making his Cubs debut against St. Louis' Michael Wacha.