Showing their spring-training form Saturday, the St. Louis Cardinals quickly regained their winning ways.
Jedd Gyorko clubbed his eighth home run, and the Cardinals stole two bases in a 5-3 triumph over the Chicago Cubs before 47,882, the largest crowd in Busch Stadium III history.
The Cardinals (20-15), whose six-game winning streak was halted Friday, have won seven of eight and are back to a season-high five games over .500.
“I think that was probably the closest thing to a spring-training game that we’ve had,” said Gyorko, referring to the abandon on the basepaths that helped St. Louis finish 20-8 in the Grapefruit League. “We were aggressive on the bases, taking advantage.
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“We were trying to make (Jon) Lester as uncomfortable as we can. If you’re not going to put any pressure on him, he’s going to be tough to beat. It was good to put a little pressure on him and steal a couple of runs.”
Lester is a solid pitcher who was 19-5 last season and finished second in NL Cy Young Award balloting, but he does not like to throw to bases.
Tommy Pham was all over the field with two hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. Pham walked in the third, stole second, went to third on catcher Willson Contreras’ throwing error and scored on pitcher Carlos Martinez’s bunt single that made it 1-1.
Yadier Molina followed Gyorko’s go-ahead homer in the fourth with a walk and his 50th career stolen base. After Greg Garcia’s sacrifice, Pham’s RBI hit made it 3-1.
Pham had an RBI double and Magneuris Sierra had a run-scoring single in the sixth to make it 5-1, negating a two-run homer by the Cubs’ Ian Happ in the seventh — his first career hit.
Pham is batting .387 (12-for-31) with four doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs in eight games since being recalled from Class AAA Memphis.
“Run — that was our approach,” Pham said. “Get a big lead and run. It worked.”
But not always. Pham was caught stealing in the fourth when he didn’t acquire as good a lead as he had in the third. Sierra, meanwhile, left first too early in the fourth. Lester stepped off the rubber, made a soft throw to second, and Sierra was eventually tagged in rundown.
“That was shocking,” Pham said of Lester throwing to second.
“You have to have the speed and savvy to (steal bases) at this level,” Pham continued. “There’s a time to go, and there’s a time not to go. You have to put all the factors into the equation. If they’re giving it to you, take it. I want to steal at any opportunity I can get.”
The Cardinals led 3-1 in the fifth when the Cubs had runners at first and third with one out.
Anthony Rizzo hit ball back to Martinez, who underhanded the ball to shortstop Aledmys Diaz for the force. The Cardinals were credited with a 1-6-3 double play after umpires ruled Happ slid past the base and into Diaz.
The Cubs challenged the ruling on the field, which was confirmed.
“That was a game-changer,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “(Diaz) did come up to make the throw. I think it was widely thought you had to throw it (to first). But the guy’s getting hammered; he’s not going to be able to throw the ball.
“That was everything they’ve talked about that they’ve tried to eliminate from the game, with going through the bag like almost a barrel roll. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and that call definitely shut down some momentum.”
Happ said he had no intentions of injuring Diaz.
“Just a baseball play. An aggressive play,” he said. “I slid a little too far past the bag. I guess that’s the rule. If you can’t hold on to the bag, it’s interference. That’s what happened.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon disdains the rule — and not just because it hurt his team.
“I have no idea why these rules are a part of our game,” said Maddon, also referring to the sliding rule at home plate. “Outs are rewarded based on a fabricated rule. It was created under the umbrella of safety.
“You slide directly over the bag, and there’s no chance for the runner to be thrown out at first. There was nothing dangerous on the part of our runner. I’m not into office-created rules. There was no malicious intent there whatsoever.
“That was one out (the Cardinals) didn’t have to earn. I’d like to see that rule ejected. I’d like to see the rule at the plate ejected. They have no place in our game.”
Oh gets save
Seung Hwan Oh posted his 10th save with a scoreless ninth, following Trevor Rosenthal’s scoreless eighth.
Oh, after a slow start to the season, has not allowed an earned run in his past 12 games and 13 innings. He has nine saves in that stretch.
“He’s good,” Matheny said. “He’s found his secondary pitches, and he has a little more life on his fastball. Rosey being able to do what he’s doing to hand the ball off and keep things where they are, that’s huge as well. They’re a pretty powerful twosome right now.”