Happ comes through clutch with 451-foot bomb as Cubs top Cards


by - Senior Writer -
Happ had the go-ahead homer in the ninth inning (Jasen Vinlove - USA Today Sports)
Happ had the go-ahead homer in the ninth inning (Jasen Vinlove - USA Today Sports)

ST. LOUIS – Anyone who thinks David Ross shouldn't be extended beyond the final year of his contract next season hasn't been watching baseball. Despite the record and following all the trades this season, Ross has managed to have the Chicago Cubs (70-91) playing better than their record shows as they continue to fight until the end.

Up against their archrivals, the St. Louis Cardinals (90-71), the Cubs continue to play them hard even if they will finish the season with a losing record against them. Saturday was no exception as the Cubs battled their former ace, Jon Lester, through five innings before taking the lead with one swing before the bullpen gave up yet another lead. However, on this night, it was time for the Cubs to crush the hearts of Cardinal fans as a ninth-inning homer by Ian Happ proved to be the difference in the Cubs 6-5 win.

Making his third start against the Cubs this season and second in the last two weeks, seeing Lester wearing Red is still an uneasy feeling. He allowed four runs on six hits through five innings, but his line was much better than that, especially early on. He was opposed by Adrian Sampson, who has been one of the lone bright spots in the Cubs rotation during the better part of two months.

With Lester heading to yet another postseason, the Cardinals wanted to give him a win against his former team and looked no further than Harrison Bader to provide them with a 1-0 lead as he led off the bottom of the first with a homer. Although that was the only run Sampson would allow, the Cardinals made him work as the right-hander through ninety pitches in four innings of work, but managed to keep their offense in check.

His effort to get through some long innings was huge as Lester was on top of his game early, allowing just three hits through four innings, two of them coming off the bat of Trayce Thompson. After doing next to nothing offensively through three innings, the Cubs started to make Lester work in the fourth, with Matt Duffy picking up a one-out double before advancing to third on the Thompson single. Add in a Sergio Alcantara walk, and the Cubs had the bases loaded with one out only to come away empty-handed.

One inning later, the same story as the Cubs once again had Lester on the ropes. This time, it was Erick Castillo getting the party started legging out a one-out infield single. Following the Frank Schwindel fielder's choice, Happ and Duffy worked walks as the Cubs once again loaded the bases. After letting Lester off the hook in the fourth, Thompson made sure that wouldn't happen again as he took Lester deep to left field for a Grand Slam, his second homer in as many days. Not only did that swing give the Cubs a 4-1 lead, but it was the first Cubs grand slam at St. Louis since Bryan LaHair hit one in 2012.

With the lead and Sampson out of the game, it was up to the Cubs pen to hold them off with Trevor Megill the first on in relief. Things couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for him, allowing not only a one-out double to Paul Goldschmidt, but an RBI triple to Tyler O'Neill a few pitches later as the Cardinals not only cut the lead to 4-2, but were threatening for more. Give Megill credit, as he walked Nolan Arenado to put a pair of runners on base before an inning-ending double play kept the Cubs in front.

With the Cardinals pen taking over in the sixth, Trent Giambrone led the inning off with a single before a double play killed that rally. Michael Rucker was up next for the Cubs, who not only pitched a perfect sixth inning, but was called in to pitch the seventh for the Cubs. That came after the Cubs failed to cash in with another two-out rally stranding both Happ and Duffy on base yet again. That proved to be costly as the Cardinals made life difficult for Rucker in his second inning.

With one down, Bader hustled down the first baseline inducing a poor throw from Alcantara, and reached base on an error. An O'Neill single with two outs put the tying run on base before Tommy Edman singled up the middle to pull the red birds within 4-3. A few pitches later, it was Dylan Carlson's turn as he took a pitch off the plate and flared it perfectly down the left-field line to score a pair and put the Cardinals back in front 5-4.

Generally, the Cubs would panic at this stage of the game, but this is now a roster filled with unproven players as they continue to impress with their overall fight. Still trailing by one in the ninth and set to face Luis Garcia, the Cubs knew it was now or never if they wanted to reach 70 wins.

Following a Rafael Ortega groundout, Castillo continued to show impressive poise for a rookie working a walk to put the tying run on base.

For the second time in the game, Schwindel was unable to move him over, bouncing into a fielder's choice and swapping places with Castillo at first. That set the stage for Happ, who took Garcia deep just one week ago. Expecting Garcia to pitch him closely, Happ got one to his liking up in the zone and deposited it to dead center 451 feet to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead. That would be all the Cubs would need in the end, as Rowan Wick was able to overcome a leadoff walk to record the save and preserve the Cubs 6-5 win.

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