ST. LOUIS – Load up the bandwagon and beer kegs. The Cubs’ division-title party just got postponed and moved to Wrigley Field.
The Cardinals hit a pair of two-run homers off Cubs starter Jason Hammel to beat the Cubs 4-2 Tuesday night and keep the Cubs from tearing up Busch Stadium on Wednesday with an in-your-face clinching celebration.
“No fan wants to see a division rival clinch on your field, and we don’t either,” said Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss, who snapped out of a slump in a big way with a two-hit game that included the go-ahead homer in the sixth.
“We’d love to be in the situation the Cubs are in,” Moss said. “They’re in a much better position than we are. But we have a chance to do something about it.”
For the Cardinals, the victory meant they stayed a half-game behind the Mets for the National League’s final playoff spot – the spot the Cubs earned last year before knocking off the 100-win Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
For the Cubs, the division lead goes back to 16 games over the Cardinals with 18 to play and keeps the magic number for clinching at three. The Cubs can clinch no earlier than Thursday, when they open their final homestand of the year against the Brewers.
“I don’t think anybody cares [where or when],” said Cubs leadoff man Dexter Fowler, who gave the Cubs a quick lead with a homer on the fifth pitch of the game. “It’s inevitable at this point. It’s just a matter of time.”
Make no mistake: A lot of the Cubs wanted to clinch on the Cards in St. Louis, which would have taken a three-game sweep.
Instead, the perennial bullies of the NL Central provided a one-night reminder that the Cubs haven’t quite finished the job yet – much less finished off the Cardinals, who are 8-7 against the Cubs this season with four meetings left.
“It’s nice to do what we’ve done this year, that’s for sure,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, “and what we’ve done top to bottom the last few years. But this year to win the division, it’s not easy to do.
“Maybe it’s looked a little easy with the way we’ve played, but it’s not easy. You can’t take that for granted.”
The Cubs send red-hot Jon Lester to the mound Wednesday with a chance to win the series, drop the magic number to one and make the Cardinals’ playoff drive one game tougher.
Either way, the biggest celebration of the year for a team that celebrates every time it wins a game is on tap for Wrigley.
“I can imagine that for those people following us really closely, watching all the games, coming to a lot of games, that this is a sweet time for them to really enjoy the moment,” said first-year Cub Ben Zobrist, who mentioned that teammates talked in recent days of clinching on the Cardinals. “I’ve heard some guys mention that.
“I think for the guys that have been here for a while and have endured some of the trouncings they’ve taken here in the past from the Cardinals, that might be sweet for some of those guys. But for the rest of us, it would be probably even sweeter to do it at home.”
The Cubs lost Tuesday despite knocking struggling Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia out of the game in the second when they loaded the bases with two out, leading 2-0. They mustered just one hit the rest of the way as Alex Reyes took over and shut them down the next 4 1/3 innings.
“Barring the most amazing collapse in major league history, we know we’re not going to catch them,” Moss said. “But for them to [clinch in St. Louis], they would’ve had to sweep us. That would’ve been a terrible thing to let happen here. We’d have been in a terrible spot.”