The game was still scoreless and the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out.
But John Lackey bore down and struck out Mike Leake, a good-hitting pitcher, and also K'd Matt Carpenter to end the inning.
Then Dexter Fowler led off the top of the next inning with this home run (link only, no embed code available) to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Thanks to an excellent performance by Lackey and three Cubs relievers, that would be all the runs the Cubs would need as they started out the first series of the year against the rival Cardinals with a 5-0 win, their second shutout victory of the year and eighth time they allowed two runs or fewer.
Lackey was outstanding. He walked Carpenter to lead off the bottom of the first and that was another "Uh, oh..." because Lackey has at times struggled in the first inning. But he then retired the next 10 batters he faced before Matt Holliday singled with one out in the fourth. The two hits in the fifth, mentioned above, was the only time a Cardinals baserunner got past first base against Lackey, and the 11 strikeouts he wound up with was his most since 2014 and just one short of tying his career high.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were tacking on three more runs in the seventh inning. Two singles and a Cardinals error scored one run, another came home on a sacrifice fly by Addison Russell, and then Lackey himself singled in a run. The Cubs' final run of the evening came on a double by Ben Zobrist (which broke an 0-for-24 slump for him), a fly ball which advanced him to third, and a single by Kris Bryant. Bryant was 2-for-4 and his batting average has sneaked up to .250.
Fowler, meanwhile, continued his hot start with a double in addition to his home run. He's hitting .378/.500/.711, and the 1.211 OPS stands third in the National League as of Tuesday morning. Fowler has three home runs in 12 games played. Last year he didn't hit his third homer until May 14, the Cubs' 33rd game of 2015. Even with the Cubs' great pitching so far, they might not be where they are if not for Fowler's offensive contributions.
One of the other stories of this game was the return of Lackey and Jason Heyward to St. Louis. You all know of the "trader" tweets aimed at Heyward by Cardinals fans. Both were booed when they took the field and came to bat, but there were cheers from Cubs fans mixed in with the boos, particularly for Heyward:
Lackey, for his part, wasn't impressed with the booing:
"I've seen boos," Lackey said. "Those ain't boos. That was a pretty soft boo."
Heyward went 0-for-4, though his final out, a sharp line drive to right field, at least showed that he's making solid contact. His numbers don't look great after 13 games, but Heyward got off to a slow start last year, too. At the end of April 2015, he was hitting .217/.261/.349 with two home runs in 83 at-bats. He'll be fine. He was certainly fine defensively Monday night; here's one of his two sterling sliding catches:
The bullpen did a fine job in relief of Lackey; Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and Trevor Cahill got the last six outs of the game, three by strikeout. The pen now has 31 strikeouts in 28 innings with just five walks allowed.
In winning this game the Cubs became the first team in the major leagues to win 10 games in 2016, since the nine-win Nationals lost Monday evening. It's the first time since 1969 that a Cubs team has been first to the double-digit victory mark.
A couple more fun facts about this one:
John Lackey (age 37 y, 178 d): oldest #Cubs pitcher with 10+ K in a game since Greg Maddux (10 K) 5/10/2005 (age 39 y, 26 d)— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 19, 2016
Last 2 #Cubs with 10+ K at St. Louis— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) April 19, 2016
11 - John Lackey 4/18/2016 (new Busch Stadium)
12 - Carlos Zambrano 7/22/2005 (old Busch Stadium)
Walk watch: the Cubs drew only one walk Monday evening (Miguel Montero), only the second time this year they have had fewer than four walks in a game. (They won the other one, too.) They still lead the major leagues with 64 walks in 13 games, an average of 4.92 per game.
One final note: for the first time this year, Cubs pitchers threw more pitches than their opponent (127 to 107). Didn't matter, of course, since the Cubs won anyway.
Monday night's victory gives the Cubs a great opportunity to win this series, even with pitching matchups that would seem to favor the Cardinals over the next two days. There is a chance of thunderstorms in the St. Louis area both tonight and Wednesday, so let's hope they can get tonight's game in, grab a victory, and win the series outright in case Wednesday afternoon's game has weather issues.
Tonight's contest matches Jason Hammel and Jaime Garcia. The game preview will post at 5 p.m. CT.