CHICAGO (AP) - The young sluggers of the Chicago Cubs are making themselves at home in the playoffs.
On a rare off night for Jake Arrieta, the Windy City kids bashed their way to the brink of the NL Championship Series - and a spot in the record book.
Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber connected as the Cubs set a postseason mark with six home runs and beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-6 on Monday for a 2-1 lead in the NL Division Series. Arrieta struck out nine before departing in the sixth inning, and the bullpen finished the job in the first playoff game at Wrigley Field in seven years.
“To see the ball fly out of the yard as many times as it did was incredible,” Arrieta said.
Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Dexter Fowler also went deep for Chicago, which held a share of the previous postseason record with five homers in Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS against San Diego.
“Pretty impressive,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You know, I know the wind was blowing out - we’ll concede that - but most of them were properly struck. We are definitely capable of that.”
A third straight win for the Cubs on Tuesday afternoon, and the once woebegone franchise will advance to the NLCS for the first time in 12 years. The Cardinals, who led the majors with 100 wins this season, have won at least one playoff series in each of the last four years.
Jason Hammel starts at home in Game 4. John Lackey, who won the opener, pitches for the Cardinals.
“I want to win championships. I want to be on good teams,” Lackey said. “Got a chance here, still, and try to keep it moving.”
Jason Heyward and Stephen Piscotty homered for St. Louis, which got to Arrieta for four runs in his worst start in four months. But the Cardinals were unable to keep the Cubs in the ballpark.
St. Louis trailed 8-4 before Piscotty hit a two-run shot with two out in the ninth, a scary moment for a towel-waving crowd of 42,411 used to playoff heartache. But Hector Rondon retired Matt Holliday on a harmless bouncer to second, and the party was on.
“We were grinding against Arrieta all night and we did have opportunities,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “They just kept adding on.”
Arrieta improved to 18-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his last 22 starts dating to June 21, but he was far from his usual dominant self. He hadn’t allowed more than three runs in a game since a June 16 loss to Cleveland.
And it didn’t matter, not one bit.
“Today we got his back - just like he always got our backs,” Castro said.
Schwarber, Castro and Bryant homered against Michael Wacha in his first playoff appearance since he threw the final pitch of the 2014 postseason for the Cardinals, a game-ending, three-run shot for Travis Ishikawa in the NLCS against the Giants.
Bryant’s two-run drive made it 4-2 with one out in the fifth and chased Wacha in favor of Kevin Siegrist. But Rizzo followed another long ball, a drive to right for his first hit of the playoffs.
Even Adam Wainwright got into the act, serving up Soler’s two-run shot in the sixth. Soler, who struggled with injuries for much of the year, is 4 for 4 with two homers, four RBIs and five walks in the series. He is the first player in major league history to reach safely in his first nine postseason plate appearances.
The final homer for Chicago went to Fowler, practically an elder statesman in Maddon’s youthful lineup. Fowler doesn’t turns 30 until March, but Soler, Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber and Castro are all 26 or younger.
Cubs shortstop Addison Russell left in the fourth with tightness in his left hamstring. He said he is day to day.
“It feels fine now so we’re just going to have to wait, see how it goes overnight,” he said.
St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina winced on a swing-and-miss in the fourth inning, and then was checked on by a trainer and Matheny. Molina missed the last part of the regular season due to a strained ligament in his left thumb. Piscotty and second baseman Kolten Wong were shaken up after a collision in foul territory in the fifth.
Facing elimination, Matheny decided to go to Lackey on short rest. He pitched 7 1-3 innings of two-hit ball in the Cardinals’ 4-0 victory on Friday. Hammel pitched five shutout innings in his final start of the regular season on Oct. 1 at Cincinnati. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 4.80 ERA in four career playoff games.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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