CHICAGO — Yadier Molina had three of St. Louis’ four hits, including a two-run single, and the Cardinals held off the fading Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Friday.
Carlos Martinez got the final two outs a day after a brutal blown save, and the Cardinals stretched their NL Central lead to 3 1/2 games over Milwaukee and five games over Chicago. The Cubs are 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers for the second NL wild card, with Milwaukee set to play later Friday against Pittsburgh.
Chicago has totaled nine runs while losing its past four games. The Cardinals have won the first two games of this key four-game set, and they’ll play the Cubs five more times over their final eight games.
The Cubs scored their run following a St. Louis error in the second inning, and the Cardinals rallied in the sixth.
David Phelps (2-1), the second of eight Cubs relievers, walked Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna to start the inning. Steve Cishek took over and walked Matt Carpenter to load the bases before Molina grounded a 2-2 pitch up the middle.
It was another narrow victory for St. Louis. The Cardinals won 5-4 in 10 innings Thursday night when Carpenter homered off All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. Chicago had rallied with three runs in the ninth against Martinez and Andrew Miller.
Miller pitched the eighth inning Friday and got the first out in the ninth before manager Mike Shildt went to Martinez. The right-hander got a popup, walked pinch-hitter Tony Kemp and then got Ben Zobrist to ground out to complete his 22nd save.
Michael Wacha pitched four innings of one-run ball for St. Louis, and five relievers shut down Chicago after that. Ryan Helsley pitched a scoreless fifth and was awarded the win.
The Cardinals left 12 men on base. Chicago left nine runners on and hit into three double plays.
Chicago went up 1-0 after Kyle Schwarber doubled in the second and scored from third when second baseman Tommy Edman bobbled David Bote’s grounder. Bote was awarded an RBI because it was ruled that Schwarber would have scored regardless.
Alec Mills pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Cubs, but the bullpen issued seven walks and couldn’t hold the 1-0 lead. Mills allowed two hits and struck out six.
RIZZO’S RAPID RETURN
Anthony Rizzo batted leadoff and played first base for the second straight day after an unexpected return Thursday from a sprained right ankle. He had a single and a walk in three plate appearances before being replaced in a double switch in the sixth.
Cardinals: 2B Kolten Wong was scheduled to have an MRI on his injured left hamstring after leaving Thursday’s game in the fifth inning. Shildt didn’t have results before Friday’s game.
Cubs: RHP Brandon Kintzler (strained left oblique) said he felt good and was ready to return after being inspired by Rizzo. Kintzler last pitched Sept. 10 at San Diego.
Cardinals RHP Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.35) takes the mound against Cubs LHP Jose Quintana (13-8, 3.35) on Saturday. Hudson is 6-1 in his last seven starts with a 1.59 ERA. Quintana has an 11.32 ERA in his last three starts and has failed to get past the third inning in his last two.