The Cardinals took advantage of Cubs closer Carlos Marmol's wildness in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday, tying the score on a bases-loaded walk and winning it on a wild pitch for a dramatic 2-1, come from behind victory at Busch Stadium.
Combined with Atlanta's 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals climbed to within two games of the Braves in the wild-card race with just four games left to play.
"If we had lost that one, whether they win or lose, it would have been eight-ball time," manager Tony La Russa said. "But we're in it. That's part of the excitement. We're in it."
With the scoreboard in right field showing Atlanta losing for much of the game, the Cardinals looked as if they wanted no part of picking up a key game in the wild-card race. They had just four hits, lost two runners on the bases and had no runs in heading to the bottom of the ninth trailing 1-0.
But Matt Holliday, making his first appearance in 10 games following a finger injury, started the winning rally with a one-out single off Marmol. He was pinch-run for by the speedy Tyler Greene, who stole second and advanced to third when the throw got away from Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.
"You can't play scared, you have to be aggressive," Greene said. "I felt good about the situation and was confident.
"I saw it break the other way with Castro going back toward the middle, so I figured that everybody was going the wrong way to the ball and it was a good chance to go. I was just trying to be as aggressive as possible."
David Freese struck out for the second out of the inning before things fell apart for Marmol. A strike away from punching out catcher Yadier Molina to end the game, the Cubs closer missed with a pair of offerings to put runners at first and third.
Skip Schumaker followed with a five-pitch walk to load the bases before former Cubs player Ryan Theriot took six pitches, including a borderline 3-2 pitch called a ball, to walk and force in Greene to tie the score.
"Those at-bats, that's what we embrace as athletes and competitors," Theriot said. "That's the situation you want to be in. the game on the line with the chance to do something great. You embrace those at-bats.
"I was going to make him throw strikes, but I've played behind him for five years and this guy's got some of the best stuff in the game so you can't go up there just taking pitches. He's really good. You have it in the back of your mind that he's had problems finding the strike zone, but I definitely was not up there just taking."
Asked about the 3-2 pitch that appeared to be just high and inside, Theriot said, "It was a ball. I thought it was a ball. He called it a ball."
After starting the bottom of the ninth inning in the dugout, waving his arms to pump up the crowd like a player on the sideline for a big third-down play, rookie Adron Chambers — pinch running for Molina — scored the winning run when an 0-1 offering to Rafael Furcal from Marmol was inside and went to the backstop.
The Cardinals rushed onto the field and mobbed Chambers at the plate in a celebration so large that La Russa got popped in the jaw in the dugout.
Looking at potentially being three games back in the wild-card race with four to play, the Cardinals improbable run continued with a comeback that noticeably energized and rejuvenated a clubhouse devastated by back-to-back losses.
"It was exciting," La Russa said. "When we tied it, I thought we had a great chance because they had already used some of their key relievers. But to win it, I mean somebody hit me in the jaw and it's still sore. I have no idea who it was.
"I'm going to have to settle down and replay the inning because I'm not sure exactly what happened."
Kyle Lohse gave the Cardinals a chance to come back, holding the Cubs to just one run in seven strong innings. It was his fourth solid outing in row and followed a dominant outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on the road last week.
La Russa confirmed that Lohse would start a one-game playoff against the Braves on Thursday at Busch Stadium should the teams end up tied.
"It would be fun if that happens," Lohse said. "It would be great if I don't have to pitch in that game and we wrap something up. We have a lot of work ahead of us. I'm going to look towards it like I have a start on Thursday. That's how I'm going to approach my week and go from there."
After trailing the Braves by 10-1/2 games in the standings on the morning of Aug. 26, the Cardinals would welcome a chance at a one-game playoff. Saturday's comeback made that possibility more realistic.
VIDEO FROM FOXSPORTSMIDWEST.com
Tyler Greene discusses his game-tying run and the Cards comment on their wild-card chances.
Sun., Sept. 25 vs. CUBS: Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3,85) vs. Randy Wells (7-5, 5.09) 1:15 p.m. CDT (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX Radio and Cardinals Radio Network).
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