With the game on the line and a right-handed batter at the plate, there are few Cardinals pitchers that manager Mike Matheny would rather have on the mound than Pat Neshek.
Matheny issued an intentional walk to set up such a matchup Tuesday night in the 10th inning, but this time the percentages didn't pay off.
Welington Castillo homered and drove in the winning run with a 10th-inning single off Neshek, giving the Chicago Cubs a 4-3 victory over St. Louis that tightened the NL Central race.
Right-handed hitters were just 24 of 140 against Neshek (7-2) before Tuesday for a batting average of .171.
"He's done such a great job for us all season," Matheny said.
St. Louis' lead was reduced to 1 1/2 games over second-place Pittsburgh, which clinched a playoff berth by beating Atlanta.
With four games to play, the Cardinals, who secured a postseason spot last weekend, still have a magic number of four to wrap up their second consecutive division crown.
"It was amazing to get the homer and the walk-off base hit," Castillo said. "I cannot ask more than that."
Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer for St. Louis.
Luis Valbuena was intentionally walked to get to Castillo, who drove the ball into the right-center gap. Rizzo scored easily.
"Rizzo got a hold of one pretty well and we had an opportunity to get around a left-handed batter and put a righty in front of him, but Castillo just ended up putting together a good at-bat," Matheny said.
Neshek is so effective against right-handed hitters in part because his unusual motion often gets them off balance. Castillo, however, hung in like few others have.
"I was aggressive, looking for something over home plate that I can drive," he said. "He threw me a slider over home plate. I was on top of that. I was lucky to hit it."
Both starters had pitched well of late, but neither was able to get through the sixth inning this time.
St. Louis right-hander Shelby Miller entered 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in four September starts, but lasted just 4 1-3 innings, allowing three runs and five hits.
Miller left trailing 3-0 and Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks appeared in control through five innings, but he managed to retire just one batter in the sixth and left with the score tied. Hendricks allowed three runs and five hits in 5 1-3 innings.
The Cubs grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second when Valbuena led off with a walk and Castillo followed with a two-run drive deep into the left-field bleachers.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth when Szczur led off with a solo homer that just made the first row of bleachers in left-center.
The Cardinals got on the board in the sixth with an RBI groundout by Jon Jay to make it 3-1. Hendricks still seemed in control, but he left a 2-2 pitch out over the plate to the next batter, and Holliday deposited it into the left-field bleachers to tie the score.
The Cardinals wasted opportunities to take the lead after that. They'll try to regroup and move closer to that division title.
"Pittsburgh's playing good right now," Miller said. "They have a great team over there and they've won two games against Atlanta. No doubt, that team's not going to give up, and neither are we."
Cardinals: Matheny said RHP Michael Wacha is expected to make his next start Friday in Arizona. Wacha, who missed three months earlier in the season with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, was down just briefly two weeks ago before making a start against the Reds on Saturday.
The finale of the three-game series is Wednesday night. Cardinals RHP John Lackey (14-9, 3.86 ERA) faces Cubs RHP Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65), who pitched a one-hitter in his last start against Cincinnati.
Link to box score: Chicago (70-88) 4, St. Louis (88-70) 3 (10 innings)
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