- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Jon Lester did all he could to keep the Chicago Cubs close. The lefty knew there was little margin for error against old teammate John Lackey.

“I wouldn’t say flawless, but obviously sitting over there you know what Lack’s going to do,” Lester said after the St. Louis Cardinals cooled off the Cubs 4-0 in their NL Division Series opener Friday night. “He had it working.”

Lester struggled at the beginning and at the end of his outing for the wild-card winners, allowing a run on consecutive hits in the first and then retiring 13 in a row before rookie pinch-hitter Tommy Pham homered to key a pull-away three-run eighth.

“Did a good job of minimizing damage in the first and getting out of there with one, and I guess, right pitch, right time for Pham,” Lester said. “Looking for it, threw it, he didn’t miss it. Sometimes it happens.”

The Cubs managed just three hits against Lackey and the St. Louis bullpen, putting two on in the ninth before Trevor Rosenthal struck out Kris Bryant looking to end it.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon had the ball checked and replaced by plate umpire Phil Cuzzi in the sixth, but said it was only because the ball might have been dirty from the previous pitch.

“We wanted the ball exchanged, that’s all we wanted,” Maddon told The Associated Press. “It was all about the baseball. Apparently, the baseball was OK.”

Cubs players treaded lightly on the notion Lackey might have been doctoring the ball.

“Listen, this is baseball. We’re not here to accuse anybody of anything,” catcher David Ross said. “We’re not here to rip on the umpire. Who cares?”

Coghlan said it really didn’t matter.

“That isn’t why we lost, so I don’t even sweat it,” Coghlan said. “I don’t know what people saw. I didn’t see pine tar from the dugout.”

In front of a standing room only crowd of 47,830 - the second-largest at 10-year-old Busch Stadium - thousands of Cubs faithful mixed into the red throng for the first postseason game between the two long-time rivals.

Lackey held the Cubs hitless for five innings, getting help from Bryant’ double-play ball by to end the fourth. Addison Russell ended the suspense with a solid single up the middle to open the sixth and Kyle Schwarber’s bunt hit leading off the seventh was the only other hit allowed by Lackey in 7 1-3 innings.

Stephen Piscotty added a two-run shot off Pedro Strop for the Cardinals, who turn to lefty Jaime Garcia (10-6) in Game 2 of the best-of-five series on Saturday. Garcia made 20 starts coming off risky thoracic surgery.

Kyle Hendricks (8-7) makes his postseason debut for the Cubs.

Matt Holliday had an RBI single in the first, giving St. Louis a lead after just three at-bats. Pham homered off Lester with one out in the eighth. Two batters later, Piscotty hit a two-run shot off Pedro Strop.

The 36-year-old Lackey outdid Lester, with whom he formed a potent 1-2 punch on the 2013 Red Sox, the team that knocked off the Cardinals in the World Series.

Lackey is 3-0 with an 0.93 ERA in four starts against Chicago overall. Lester is 1-4, but he has a 2.79 ERA against St. Louis.

Including their wild-card victory at Pittsburgh, the Cubs had won nine in a row. They haven’t scored since the fifth inning of that 4-0 victory, however.

Lester, the Cubs’ big offseason free-agent pickup, settled in for an impressive night after the first. Piscotty doubled with one out and scored on Holliday’s single. Lester struck out nine and gave up three runs on five hits in 7 1-3 innings.

St. Louis led the majors with 100 wins and finished three games ahead of the Cubs, who are making their first postseason appearance since 2008. The Cardinals were outscored 12-0 the final three games at Atlanta after wrapping up their third straight NL Central title.

Kevin Siegrist struck out Chris Coghlan and Russell to end the eighth when it was still a one-run cushion.

BIG PITCH

Reggie Sanders threw a strike to the plate on the ceremonial first pitch. Ten years ago, Sanders hit a grand slam off San Diego’s Jake Peavy in the opener of the division series.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: OF Jorge Soler hasn’t played much since coming back from a left oblique strain in mid-September, getting four starts the last 17 games counting the wild card game. He walked as a pinch hitter in the ninth.

Cardinals: Matt Adams was left off the division series roster because he’s still rounding into form following surgery for a torn quadriceps.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Garcia has made a full recovery from thoracic outlet surgery that cost him much of the previous three seasons. “Every time I take that mound, basically take it as if it’s your last time ever to pitch in a major league game,” Garcia said. He didn’t face the Cubs in the regular season but he’s 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five career starts against them.

Cubs: Hendricks worked six scoreless innings each of his last two starts. He had a major-league high and franchise record 17 no-decisions. Matt Carpenter is 6 for 10 with a homer and three RBIs and Holliday is 6 for 12 with two homers and four RBIs against the right-hander, making his first postseason appearance.


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