Cubs' magic number still 2! Cardinals' Mikolas outduels Hamels
There's an agony about pennant-race baseball, but it's a delicious agony.
The Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals served up heaping helpings of that delicious agony on an autumn Saturday that felt like October at Wrigley Field.
The Cardinals' Miles Mikolas -- a Cy Young Award candidate -- outdueled the Cubs' Cole Hamels as St. Louis walked away with a 2-1 victory.
Mikolas was pitching to keep the Cardinals' slim postseason chances alive while experienced hand Hamels was pitching to keep the Cubs atop the National League Central.
When the game ended, the Cubs' magic number to clinch the division remained at 2 and stayed there after the second-place Milwaukee Brewers beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 later in the evening.
Are we having fun yet?
"Yeah, it's a blast," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team is 94-67 and heading to its fourth straight postseason. "Actually, that was part of my spiel with the boys (earlier in the week). Since the time you were in Little League and maybe the time before that, these are the situations you always want to be in. So why would you choose not to enjoy that or create an ominous situation that subtracts the joy?
"And I did repeat, 'Don't permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure.' It's true. I want them to embrace it and enjoy it. That's going to be our best performance if we're able to do that. It is fun. Normally, it should bring out the best in our guys, I think."
Hamels is a former World Series MVP with the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. He's been a godsend to the Cubs' staff since they obtained him from Texas in a July trade. Against the Cardinals, he worked 7 innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 runs, 1 earned, as his Cubs record fell to 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA.
He is embracing playoff-race baseball again.
"It's a special moment to be able to see that type of intensity that comes with meaningful games and that sort of playoff atmosphere," he said. "It's a little better when you win. You're playing hard. If the ultimate goal is winning a World Series, it's not going to be easy. You're going to have to play some really tough teams at some tough moments, high intensity, high stakes. That's the reason the team that wins the World Series deserves it, because they're the ones that got through all the trials and the tough breaks."
The Cubs scored an unearned run against Mikolas in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals tied it in the fourth, when Matt Carpenter reached on catcher's interference by Victor Caratini and eventually scored on Paul DeJong's single.
Hamels plunked Harrison Bader with a pitch to start the fifth, and Bader came home on Carpenter's single.
The Cubs managed 5 hits against Mikolas, who improved to 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA by working 8 innings. Cubs batters did hit some balls hard, but a cool breeze blowing in held them up.
Ben Zobrist had 1 of those hits, and he scored the team's only run.
"We're thinking about all these games like they're playoff games," said Zobrist, MVP of the 2016 World Series with the Cubs. "We just keep focusing and staying in the moment and believing that it's going to work out for us.
"You know what? There's pressure in this game, and at some level, you have to really enjoy it. You can't try to avoid it. Sure, we like the situations. That's what we're made for. That's what athletes love. It's exciting. You keep everybody interested, and that's what we're excited about tomorrow. We're excited that we have a chance to do some special things in the next few weeks."
The Cubs have had the best record in the National League for much of the year. Now, they face the possibility of finishing with the best record and earning a ticket to the division series. They also could play a one-game play-in Monday against the Brewers, and if they were to lose that, they'd have to play in the wild-card game.
"Just like to continue to have the best record in the league after tomorrow," Maddon said. "Again, there's nothing to lament with our guys. They've been playing very well for a long period of time. Our route's been a little different than everybody else. We'll come back ready to play tomorrow and see how it all falls."