video thumbnail

STL@CHC: Cardinals turn four double plays vs. Cubs

CHICAGO -- Capitalizing against a Cubs bullpen that has been nearly as unsettled as their own this season, the Cardinals escaped Wrigley Field with a split of the brief two-game series on Wednesday. After dropping a one-run game on Tuesday, the Cardinals captured a come-from-behind 5-4 victory in front of an announced crowd of 26,354 -- the lowest attendance figure for a Cubs-Cardinals game at Wrigley Field since May 1998.

The victory capped a 5-1 road trip that was highlighted, in particular, by the emergence of a rookie pitcher and the return of an offensive catalyst. With the win, the Cardinals now lead the Majors with 14 road victories.

Seth Maness was the first of four Cardinals pitchers to combine for 3 2/3 innings behind starter Jake Westbrook. Maness made his Major League debut earlier in the road trip after being the first pitcher summoned from Triple-A Memphis to help stabilize the Cardinals' bullpen.

He's responded with immediate impressiveness.

After needing only eight pitches to garner five outs in the series against Milwaukee, Maness helped Westbrook escape the sixth by inducing an inning-ending double play. Maness ended his next inning of work with another double play -- part of the four DPs the Cardinals turned on Wednesday.

"I've still got some nerves inside, but I try not to let them show," Maness said. "I try to get that ground ball, keep it down and hope that they put it in play at somebody."

Described by general manager John Mozeliak as a fit for a long-relief role upon being called up, Maness has quickly thrust himself as one of manager Mike Matheny's go-to relievers in late-inning jams. Maness showed a propensity for pitching well in such spots during Spring Training, and his effectiveness thus far has further helped settle the Cardinals' bullpen.

"He made a great first impression [in spring] and continues to do that," Matheny said. "He's earned a lot of respect from us, obviously with the positions that we're putting him in. The fact that he's throwing 88-89 [mph] with late life but pinpoint control, that's pitching. It's nice to see what he's been able to do with what he has."

Like Maness, Randy Choate also induced a key double play on Wednesday, getting Nate Schierholtz -- who had put the Cubs ahead with his two-run double in the fourth -- to ground into one to end the eighth. Closer Edward Mujica then followed with his ninth save.

Though the Cardinals' bullpen still sports a season ERA north of five, it posted a 2.35 mark during this last road trip.

"They did a great job," Westbrook said. "They got into a little trouble, but found ways to get out of it and made huge pitches when they needed to."

The bullpen's stand gave the Cardinals' offense sufficient time to peck away at the 4-2 lead the Cubs took in the fourth. St. Louis pulled within one on Carlos Beltran's RBI single in the fifth. In his next at-bat, Beltran tied the game with a two-out RBI single.

Then it was Jon Jay, whose .529 average through the first five games on this road trip earned him a bump up in the batting order, who delivered the go-ahead RBI hit in the eighth. Yadier Molina, who had singled and advanced 90 feet on a Michael Bowden wild pitch, scored on the hit.

Jay drove home two runs in the win -- giving him three multi-RBI games during the six-game road swing. He had driven in only eight runs in April.

"I think it's a drastic difference," Jay said in comparing the then and now. "I'm just trying to keep it simple. I've been able to get some pitches over the plate that I've been able to drive. I'm trying not to think, not to force things up there and let it happen."

Jay's batting average climbed from .204 to .257 with the 10 hits he collected during the six-game stretch. He hit safely in each game, further substantiating the recent decision Jay made to change the placement of his hands on his bat.

"To make an overhaul like he's made … just even throwing batting practice to him, his timing is just so on," Matheny said. "It looks like a simpler set up. He and [hitting coach John] Mabry have done a lot of work."

All of the Cardinals' starting position players reached base at least once; seven of the eight tallied at least one hit. The club spread its five runs out over five different innings, tagging Cubs relievers James Russell and Bowden for the final two.

That peskiness, along with the bullpen's effectiveness, bailed out Westbrook, who made the shortest and least effective start of the season. He lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed a season high in runs (four) and hits (nine) in the shortest of his six outings.

Three of the Cubs' four runs off the right-hander came in the fourth, which began with the first three batters reaching. Westbrook utilized a double play to avoid any additional damage in the following inning.

"I was battling my location today," said Westbrook, whose ERA rose from 1.07 to 1.62. "The big part of the day was the bullpen stepping up, all the double plays today and the offense coming up with some timely hitting. That was the story today. They really picked me up."

MLB.com Comments