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Cubs swept away by Cardinals, left clinging to faint wild-card hopes

It was the Cardinals’ first four-game sweep at Wrigley Field since 1921.

Albert Almora
Cubs center fielder Albert Almora can’t catch a triple hit by Cardinals pinch hitter Jose Martinez in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
David Banks/Getty Images

Santos Villarreal stayed busy as he hawked T-shirts outside of Wrigley Field before the Cubs’ last home game Sunday.

Admittedly, his customers were different than usual.

“How much is the Cardinals shirt?” a woman asked as she approached the makeshift stand near Addison and Sheffield.

Twenty dollars later, she had one in a size small.

Villarreal had a hunch that sales might go like this with the Cardinals surging and the Cubs stumbling. He pointed to the ground next to his stand where he kept a large bag of bright red shirts with “Redbird Invasion — Wrigley Field” printed across the front.

“These guys, they’re buying,” he said. “They’re happy. They’re in first place.”

Meanwhile, the Cubs moved one game closer to a long offseason.

A 3-2 defeat to the Cardinals was the Cubs’ sixth straight loss, the last five of which have come by one run.

The Cubs blew a ninth-inning lead for a second consecutive day and suffered a four-game sweep at home against the Cardinals for the first time since 1921.

They fell four games out of the wild-card race with only six games to go in the regular season.

In other words, it’s not looking good.

“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” manager Joe Maddon said.

This time, the Cubs led 2-1 after eight innings thanks in large part to a remarkable performance by right-hander Yu Darvish.

Rather than turn to a beleaguered bullpen, Maddon stuck with Darvish to start the ninth. But the plan backfired as he allowed two runs on a sacrifice fly by Dexter Fowler and a double by Paul Goldschmidt.

The rally started when Albert Almora failed to track down a fly ball in deep center field. The ball bounced off his glove and was ruled a triple for Jose Martinez.

“I missed it,” Almora said quietly. “It was hit hard, it went over my head, and I missed it. That’s it.”

Darvish also took blame for the loss despite striking out 12 batters in 8„ innings. He allowed seven hits and walked none.

The typically stoic pitcher acknowledged that he let out his frustration before reporters were allowed in the clubhouse. The nameplate above his locker was damaged.

Darvish said he felt strong heading into the ninth inning and credited Goldschmidt with seeing his splitter well.

“I’m so frustrated, the worst of my life,” Darvish said. “You can see it right here. Because we had to win today. But we lost.”

The Cubs also lost Kris Bryant, who sprained his right ankle and had to leave in the third inning after he slipped on first base while trying to beat out a double play. Bryant hobbled off slowly with the help of trainers in a scene that was reminiscent of seven days ago, when Anthony Rizzo suffered a similar injury.

Bryant will have an MRI exam Monday, the team said. Initial X-rays did not reveal a fracture.

Rizzo spoke with Bryant after the injury.

“It’s tough,” he said. “I talked to him. He’s doing OK. It’s just a tough series. It’s a tough way to dissect everything.”

After a day off, the Cubs will travel to Pittsburgh for three games against the Pirates. They will wrap up the regular season with three games in St. Louis.

Maddon praised his players’ effort in spite of the late-season slide.

“Listen, it is what it is,” he said. “You don’t cry; you don’t sulk; you don’t do anything. You come back and play the next game.”