LIVE: Soriano RBI gives Cubs early lead

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LIVE: Soriano RBI gives Cubs early lead

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
Posted: 10:35 a.m.

Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals can no longer win the NL Central. Securing the wild card is also starting to look unlikely.

With Matt Holliday expected to return to the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Cardinals will try to avoid a third straight loss Saturday when they continue their series with the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals (86-71) dropped the series opener 5-1 to Chicago (70-87) on Friday, eliminating them from the Central race after Milwaukee defeated Florida to clinch its first division title in 29 years.

St. Louis has dropped two straight following a 12-2 run to fall three games behind wild card leader Atlanta with five to play.

"We started this run weeks ago, everybody counted us out a long time ago and we battled back to give ourselves a chance," starting pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "... We're going to be here ready to go. Everybody is excited."

The Cardinals have to be excited about the return of Holliday, who has missed nine games with a tendon injury on the middle finger of his right hand. He took batting practice Friday and was on deck in the eighth inning of the series opener before St. Louis grounded into its third double play to end the inning.

"Anything but a double play, that would have been fun to see," manager Tony La Russa said.

Watching Holliday face Saturday's scheduled Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.71 ERA) could also be fun for the Cardinals. The left fielder is 7 for 15 with four doubles and a homer off the right-hander.

Lopez, though, has won his last two starts after striking out a season-high seven over six strong innings of Saturday's 2-1 victory over Houston. He's looking to use his final start of the season as an audition for 2012.

"I'm trying to do a job this year and trying to find a spot somewhere," said Lopez, who last won three consecutive starts May 25-June 4, 2006, while with Baltimore.

Lopez is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA and a .404 opponent batting average in two starts and two relief appearances versus St. Louis this season. Coming out of the bullpen June 5, allowed walkoff home run to Albert Pujols in the Cardinals' 3-2, 10-inning home win.

Pujols, tied for the NL lead with 37 homers, is 6 for 18 with three homers off Lopez.

More production from the Cardinals first baseman, who has reached safely in 39 straight games, could benefit Saturday's starter Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.47).

Lohse has yielded two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last 10 starts after tossing 7 1-3 innings of one-run ball in Monday's 4-3 victory at Philadelphia.

"You just can't give him enough credit," La Russa said of Lohse, 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season. "We had our best defensive team out there and we kicked it around (with two errors). He picked everybody up all day."

Shortstop Rafael Furcal made a critical error in an 8-6 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday when St. Louis gave up a four-run ninth-inning lead, but could be in Saturday's lineup after La Russa gave Nick Punto the nod Friday.

Furcal is 10 for 26 with two doubles and two homers off Lopez.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, 21, who on Friday became the youngest player in franchise history to reach 200 hits, is 1 for 8 off Lohse.

Alfonso Soriano, who hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the series opener, is batting .390 with three home runs in 41 at-bats against the Cardinals right-hander.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester didn't make any sort of statement by missing Monday's White House trip with his Cubs teammates. But at a polarizing moment in a divided country, a high-profile player on a World Series team felt the need to respond on social media and explain his absence from the championship ceremony. 

President Barack Obama name-checked Lester during his East Room speech – both for his spectacular pitching performance and beat-cancer charitable initiatives – as the Cubs continued their victory tour off the franchise's first World Series title since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.

Lester stood behind Obama when the 2013 Boston Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn. During that 2014 ceremony, Lester stood next to John Lackey, another Cub who missed this Washington trip. Lester also toured George W. Bush's White House with Boston's 2007 championship team.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day – and with the specter of Donald Trump's inauguration looming – Obama used his administration's final official White House event to draw a direct line between him and Jackie Robinson and highlight the connective power of sports.

"The best part was the president talking about how sports brings people together," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "how no matter what's going on in this country and the world, three or four hours of any one particular game can just rally so many people together." 

This team couldn't have created so much joy for generations of fans without Lester, who signed a $155 million contract with the last-place Cubs after the 2014 season, a transformational moment during the long rebuild that led to the White House trip that Obama never thought would happen.

"It was a thrill and an honor for all of us," team president Theo Epstein said. "It means so much more with his roots in Chicago and his final days in office. It couldn't have worked out any better. It's something we'll all remember for our whole lives."

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief's work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. "There's probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama's) one of them," Russell said. 

One of those three spots is "open," Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. "I couldn't text back," Russell said. "It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say."

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell's been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. "Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile," Russell said. "It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that's the goal this year, is getting better."