Cubs get tough reminder: This is still the Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- If the road to postseason glory is going to be a long one for the Cubs, they got a reminder Friday night that it still winds through St. Louis.
The Cubs did not play a bad game at all. In fact, their young players handled Game 1 of the National League division series with as much poise as anybody could expect.
Even so, they couldn't do anything with Cardinals starting pitcher John Lackey, and the Redbirds came away with a 4-0 victory before 47,830 fans at Busch Stadium.
Lackey and Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester each went 7⅓ innings, but Lester gave up a run in the first inning and a pinch-hit homer to Tommy Pham in the eighth before Stephen Piscotty iced it with a 2-run shot off reliever Pedro Strop.
Although the Cardinals stumbled a bit down the regular-season stretch and lost two of three to the Cubs at this park right after Labor Day, this is the postseason.
"We all know that," Lester said. "It doesn't matter if you're us or the Pirates or the Dodgers or the Mets or anybody else. It's gone through this city for a long time. You look up at the banners, obviously, in right and right-center field. You know that. It's like looking up in Yankee Stadium. You know you've got to go through those guys to get to where you want to go.
"They played really good, sound baseball. They have really good, solid at-bats every night. They don't give up pitches on either side. So it makes them tough. We're right there with them. There's no reason that we can't beat these guys, and we're going to continue to do what we've been doing, show up tomorrow and do the same thing."
The Cubs started three rookies -- Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell -- in Game 1 of a pressure-packed series. But at no time did the youngsters exhibit nerves or a lack of poise. That's remarkable when you consider the veteran-laden 2008 Cubs team looked rattled against the Dodgers in a division series, in which they were swept.
"At no time did we feel we were overmatched," said Schwarber, who was the Cubs' first baserunner of the game, when he walked with one out in the fourth.
Schwarber made a heads-up play when he bunted to the left side for a base hit in the seventh before singling in the ninth to keep the Cubs' flickering hopes alive.
The Cardinals struck quickly, getting a run in the first off Lester. Piscotty doubled to right field with one out and came home on a single by Matt Holliday.
After that, Lester settled in nicely, but Lackey was giving up nothing. Schwarber's fourth-inning walk was wiped out when Bryant grounded into a double play. Russell got the first hit off Lackey with a leadoff single in the sixth.
David Ross was called out on strikes on a pitch he didn't like. Lester grounded out, and Dexter Fowler flied out.
Neither Ross nor Cubs manager Joe Maddon was going to criticize home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi's strike zone.
"I voiced my opinion once," Maddon said. "It's really hard to argue with an umpire with all that noise in the ballpark, so lest I had gone out there, I would have gotten kicked out. From the side, I saw what you guys kind of saw, but you can report on that as you choose."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took Lackey out after he retired Starlin Castro leading off the eighth. Matheny brought in lefty Kevin Siegrist, but Maddon stuck with left-handed-hitting Chris Coghlan instead of going with a right-hander such as Austin Jackson or Jorge Soler. Coghlan was called out on strikes.
"Siegrist is much better against righties than lefties," Maddon said. "They have a lot of reverse splits within their team."
On the other side, Strop had given up 7 hits and 7 earned runs in 2 innings pitched at Busch Stadium in the regular season.
"Actually, I feel really comfortable; the mound is a really good mound," Strop said of pitching at this park. "Last year, I pitched pretty good in this ballpark. This year it's been a little rough."
The Cubs head into Saturday's Game 2 needing a win to avoid facing a possible sweep at Wrigley Field on Monday. They finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak before beating the Pirates in Wednesday's wild-card game. Before Friday, their last loss came on Sept. 26.
"Just turn the page as fast as possible," Ross said. "Their guy outpitched our guy, period. They played pretty much flawless baseball. We didn't push any across. Tomorrow's a new day. We've got Kyle (Hendricks) on the mound. If we split here, it's all positive."
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