- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Albert Almora Jr. learned a valuable lesson in his 12th major league game.

Run on Yadier Molina at your own peril.

Almora was cut down by Molina when he tried for third on a ball in the dirt in the ninth, and the Chicago Cubs lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night.

“As soon as I saw Yadi reach over and I saw it go through, I made an aggressive move and cost us the game today,” Almora said. “My mistake.”

Almora doubled with one out and closer Trevor Rosenthal hit pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan with his next pitch. With Ben Zobrist at the plate, Almora tried to advance when a ball bounced away from Molina, but the eight-time Gold Glove winner made a perfect throw to third baseman Jhonny Peralta for the out.



“He’s the best catcher in baseball,” said Jaime Garcia, who pitched into the seventh inning in his first win in four June starts.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it looked as if the ball hit the foot of home plate umpire Pat Hoberg before Molina got to it.

“Their catcher, Molina, made a good play and they made a good tag,” Maddon said.

Zobrist followed with a single to right, putting runners on the corners, but Rosenthal got Jason Heyward to pop out for his 13th save in 15 chances. Rosenthal allowed five runs and seven hits in two-plus innings over his previous four appearances.

“He was flirting with danger again,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Got to get him right, and right there it’s not as much getting him right as much as it felt like he was our best shot.”

Brandon Moss and Peralta homered against John Lackey, helping the Cardinals stop a five-game losing streak. It was their first trip to Wrigley Field since they were eliminated by the Cubs in the NL Division Series last year.

Lackey settled down after a slow start, but Garcia (5-6) and two relievers held the major league-leading Cubs in check. Lackey (7-3) allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings in his first loss in three appearances this year against his former team.

“Early on I definitely wasn’t locating quite as well as I could,” Lackey said. “We made some adjustments in between innings that paid off in the end.”

Both benches were warned by Hoberg after Moss and Chicago star Kris Bryant were each hit by a pitch in the fifth. But the longtime rivals played the rest of the game without incident.

Chicago was coming off a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh and had won 18 of 24 overall. Its NL Central lead over second-place St. Louis was trimmed to 11 1/2 games, still the biggest advantage in baseball.

Moss went deep in the second and Peralta added a leadoff drive in the third. Aledmys Diaz also had a two-out RBI single for the Cardinals.

Lackey allowed a total of three runs in his previous four starts combined.

SMASHING START

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit a two-out RBI single in the third in his first major league start. The touted prospect was promoted from Triple-A Iowa on Friday and hit a two-run homer on the first pitch of his first at-bat in Sunday night’s 10-5 victory over the Pirates.

Contreras also made two nice defensive plays in the ninth, throwing out Matt Carpenter when he tried to steal second and using a sweep tag to get Diaz when he was thrown out at the plate.

“That had some hair on it,” Maddon said of the throw that got Carpenter. “And it was absolutely accurate. You look into that crystal ball and in the future there’s going to be a lot more of those.”

MISSING FOWLER

The Cubs placed center fielder Dexter Fowler on the 15-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain and recalled right-hander Carl Edward Jr. from Triple-A Iowa.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: OF Jorge Soler (left hamstring strain) and INF Tommy La Stella (right hamstring strain) are running again. General manager Jed Hoyer said La Stella is closer to a rehab assignment than Soler.

UP NEXT

Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (5-4, 4.78 ERA) and Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (7-2, 2.26 ERA) face off on Tuesday night. Wainwright is 9-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 20 career games at Wrigley. Hammel pitched seven solid innings in a no-decision at Washington on Wednesday in his previous start.

___

Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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