Cardinals rally to dent Cubs’ playoff hopes

Cardinals rally to dent Cubs’ playoff hopes

Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong hit back-to-back homers off of hard-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth inning, and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals stunned the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 win on Saturday afternoon.

St. Louis (88-67) moved six games ahead of Chicago (82-73) in the National League Central with only seven games to go. The Cubs also fell 2 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, who play Saturday evening, for the NL’s second wild-card spot.

Marcell Ozuna also homered for St. Louis, which won its fourth straight. Paul Goldschmidt and Dexter Fowler had two RBIs apiece.

With the wind blowing out toward center field, the teams combined for 17 runs on 23 hits. There were seven lead changes.

Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and Tony Kemp homered for Chicago, which has lost five in a row with its postseason chances on the line. The Cubs’ bullpen has absorbed each of the last four losses, including two late meltdowns by Kimbrel (0-4).

Cardinals right-hander John Gant (11-1) got credit for the win after recording the final out of the eighth. He was one of eight relievers to follow starter Dakota Hudson, who gave up three runs in three innings.

Molina evened the score at 8 on Kimbrel’s first pitch of the game. He clubbed a high fastball over the wall in left-center field for his ninth homer of the season and 155th of his career.

On Kimbrel’s second pitch, DeJong put the Cardinals on top 9-8. He hammered another fastball an estimated 440 feet to center for his 28th homer, which added to his career high.

Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez pitched around a leadoff walk to secure his 23rd save. He struck out Javier Baez to end the game.

The Cubs led 8-7 entering the ninth thanks to a pinch-hit, two-run homer by Kemp in the seventh. It was his first homer in 39 games with Chicago.

Kemp’s homer erased a 7-6 Cardinals’ lead that was created by a two-run shot by Ozuna — his 29th of the season — in the seventh.

Chicago trailed 5-3 before a two-run blast by Happ evened the score at 5-5 in the fourth. Hoerner added a solo shot two innings later for his third homer in 13 big league games.

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