- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Welington Castillo’s first game-ending hit came at an inopportune time for the Cardinals.

Castillo homered and drove in the winning run with a 10th-inning single, giving the Chicago Cubs a 4-3 victory over St. Louis that tightened the NL Central race Tuesday night.

“It was amazing to get the homer and the walk-off base hit,” Castillo said. “I cannot ask more than that.”

Castillo finished 2 for 5 with three RBIs, and Matt Szczur also homered for the Cubs. Zac Rosscup (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning for his first major league win.

St. Louis’ lead was reduced to 1 1/2 games over second-place Pittsburgh, which clinched a playoff berth by beating Atlanta.

With four games to play, the Cardinals, who secured a postseason spot last weekend, still have a magic number of four to wrap up their second consecutive division crown.

“(Pittsburgh’s) not going to give up, and neither are we,” Cardinals starter Shelby Miller said. “We know what we’re capable of and we’ll take it day by day and try to win each game.”

Miller entered 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in four September starts, but lasted just 4 1-3 innings. He allowed three runs and five hits.

Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer for St. Louis. Pat Neshek (7-2) took the loss.

With the score tied at 3, Anthony Rizzo hit a one-out double off the base of the wall in right-center and advanced to third on a groundout by rookie Jorge Soler.

Luis Valbuena was intentionally walked to get to Castillo, who drove the ball into the right-center gap. Rizzo scored easily.

“I was aggressive, looking for something over home plate that I can drive,” Castillo said. “He threw me a slider over home plate. I was on top of that.”

The Cubs jumped on St. Louis early, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the second when Valbuena led off with a walk and Castillo followed with a two-run drive deep into the left-field bleachers.

The margin grew to 3-0 in the fifth when Szczur led off with a solo homer against Miller that just made the first row of bleachers in left-center.

“He reverted back to where he was using the four-seamer. It was working early in the game and he struck out two of the first three,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “But that’s also a dangerous way to pitch, as we saw.”

St. Louis got on the board in the sixth with an RBI groundout by Jon Jay to make it 3-1. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks still seemed in control, but he left a 2-2 pitch out over the plate to the next batter, and Holliday deposited it into the left-field bleachers to tie the score.

“They obviously have a great lineup,” Hendricks said. “A lot of really good hitters. The biggest thing is when you make mistakes, they make you pay. In that last inning, the Holliday home run, that was a mistake.”

Hendricks allowed three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings. The young right-hander is 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA through 13 starts this season.

“That one was just one pitch, and it got away,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He gave us a good outing, and he kept us in the game.”

The Cubs had lost four of five while being outscored 45-22 during that span.


Cardinals: Matheny said RHP Michael Wacha is expected to make his next start Friday in Arizona. Wacha, who missed three months earlier this season with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, was down just briefly two weeks ago before starting against the Reds on Saturday.

Cubs: SS Starlin Castro will likely miss the remainder of the season, Renteria said. Castro injured his left ankle against Milwaukee on Sept. 2.


The finale of the three-game series is Wednesday night. Cardinals RHP John Lackey (14-9, 3.86 ERA) faces RHP Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65), who pitched a one-hitter in his last start against Cincinnati.

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