The Cubs point to their 18-13 record in one-run games as a source of pride, especially as they try to climb toward a playoff berth.
But their numerous shortcomings Friday night in a 3-2 loss at St. Louis in 10 innings was as glaring as the 9 ½-game gap between them and the National League Central-leading Cardinals, whom have displayed an amazing knack for overcoming any deficit or injury that could be playing into the heads of the Cubs this season.
“Give them credit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the Cardinals rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the eighth inning and improved their league-best record to 49-24 despite the loss of ace Adam Wainwright and sluggers Matt Holliday and Matt Adams.
“However, we’ve lost several tough games in this park. We have to get over the hump, and it’s more of a mental hump than it is a physical hump.
“I believe in our guys. I believe our guys can play with these guys. I know their record is better than ours (39-33), but there’s a long way to go, and we’re going to get it done here.”
Although the Cardinals seized the win when right fielder Mike Baxter – playing shallow second base as part of a five-man infield - sailed a throw past catcher David Ross that enabled Peter Bourjos to score the winning run, virtually everyone in the Cubs’ clubhouse was in agreement that the Cubs should have taken care of business sooner.
“We have to win games, especially when we’re ahead late like that,” said Jake Arrieta, who was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the eighth after throwing seven innings (and 102 pitches). “You got to win that game.”
The Cubs, who entered the game 10th in the National League with a .240 batting average with runners in scoring position, were 1-for-9 in those situations. They didn’t take the lead until the seventh, and the need for more runs in the eighth was a major reason why Maddon selected to lift Arrieta for pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia in the 10th.
Denorfia did his job, hitting a double that advanced Baxter to third. But Addison Russell struck out.
“The problem was leaving so many guys on base,” Maddon said. “You get down to that position where it’s a one-run game in extra innings, we had many opportunities we didn’t take advantage of them. That’s the tale of the tape there.”
So was a rare failure by Pedro Strop, who hadn’t allowed a run in 11 previous appearances before allowing a game-tying home run to pinch-hitter Greg Garcia to start the eighth.
“We’re right there,” Anthony Rizzo said. “This is a tough loss. This one stinks. You can’t give away a lead there, but it’s a credit to them. They battle.”
After the game, Rizzo admitted his right arm affected him a bit after getting hit in the third inning by a pitch from John Lackey. Rizzo described the injury as a bruise, but the Cubs felt even more helpless in the 10th after the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs and Jhonny Peralta at the plate.
Maddon instructed Baxter, who had three hits and tumbled over the railing down the right field line after making a catch, to move as part of a five-man infield with three infielders to the right side.
Baxter, who also has played first base, charged and threw to home plate, but his throw sailed past catcher David Ross to end the game.
“It‘s something I’m very capable of doing,” Baxter said. “In that situation, it seems a little bit outside the box, but I’m capable of doing that. I threw it away. I didn’t make the play, and it’s pretty frustrating.
I was playing first base at Triple-A (Iowa) and first base in spring training. Have I played the middle infield in a while, no? But it’s all relative. That’s a play that needs to be made.”
With the loss, the Cubs fell to 9 ½ games the Cardinals in the NL Central and are 2-5 against them this season and falling quickly toward playing exclusively for the NL wild card berths.
And the Cardinals continue to seize the moment, especially at Busch Stadium, where they are 27-7 at home this season and 30-12 against the Cubs here dating back to 2011.
“We know what the Cardinals are doing, and we have to do some things better to try to trim that lead,” Arrieta said. “At the end of the day, it’s about coming out and trying to win a game that day and not worry about too far into the future.
“We have more than enough time to put together some good stretches to minimize that number a bit. It starts here.”