Mooney: Cubs give new life to Pujols, Cardinals

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Mooney: Cubs give new life to Pujols, Cardinals

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 5:45 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney

Box Score
READ: For Cubs, Marshall has the right stuff
WELLS: To lose it the way we did just sucks
WATCH: Quade's postgame comments

ST. LOUIS Randy Wells stepped off the mound and let the applause wash over Albert Pujols. As the noise grew louder, the St. Louis icon tipped his red helmet and wiped the sweat from his bald head.

While Cubs fans seem desperate for a total teardown, the Cardinals have been a model of stability and consistency. The anxiety in this city is about keeping it all together.

A big story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section ran with the headline: Will sun set Sunday on Pujols era here? Sensing that this could be his last game before getting a megadeal somewhere else, the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball gave him a standing ovation in the first inning.

There were plenty of empty seats inside Busch Stadium. But with a late surge, the Cardinals could soon be selling playoff tickets.

After a 3-2 loss, the Cubs were content to dress their rookies in ridiculous outfits MC Hammer, Hannibal Lecter, short dresses for the long flight to San Diego.

Another comeback victory, combined with Atlanta losing in Washington, left the Cardinals (88-71) one game back in the wild-card race. With three left to play, they travel to Houston while the Braves head back to Atlanta to host the Phillies. If these really are the final days for Pujols in a St. Louis uniform, it should be entertaining.

Everybody respects Albert, Wells said. Its a nice moment for him. To be honest with you, I thought he was just getting his regular cheers. (Im) not going to sit there and say, Lets go. This is his town and he definitely deserves it.

Wells who grew up nearby in Belleville, Ill. understands the Cardinals culture. But it wasnt Pujols who went 0-for-4 on Sunday doing the damage this time. Late home runs by Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal ruined another quality start from Wells.

Whatever playoffs hopes the Cubs had probably vanished during the first week of the season, when Wells and Andrew Cashner were ticketed for the disabled list. Wells went eight innings on Sunday, finishing his season at 7-6 with a 4.99 ERA.

I still feel like I came a long way, Wells said, from the injury to all the (garbage) that went on in between there. But I feel like I bounced back nicely. (Going) into spring training, I should feel pretty confident.

That wont stop the next general manager from targeting starting pitching this winter.

The Cubs seem prepared to say goodbye to Aramis Ramirez. Manager Mike Quade said its up to the third baseman to decide whether his quad feels good enough to play again this season, setting the odds at 5050.

The loss of Ramirez will create a huge hole in the middle of their lineup. First baseman Carlos Pena who had to answer questions about Pujols the day he reported to spring training is also nearing the end of his pillow contract.

Prince Fielder, Pena and Pujols will all play off each other this offseason.

I see him in a St. Louis uniform, Pena said. Its so hard to see him in a different uniform. But of course he has (almost) reached free agency, and I assume that he will explore the market.

He deserves to see whats out there, even though I know his heart is here in St. Louis. How could it not be? All the fans would love to see him back.

Jim Hendry made national headlines when he hugged Pujols at Wrigley Field earlier this season. But at this point, a megadeal doesnt seem to fit into the immediate plans at Clark and Addison.

Like Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa could become a free agent after this season.

He set the tempo in spring training, La Russa said. He talked about his free agency that day and then he refused to talk any more about it, (so he wouldnt) distract the club. Hes not going to allow any distractions. Hes part of a team thats in contention.

Were all very optimistic that a great organization, a great player, will figure a way to make it work.

They still have something to play for. Why leave now?

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

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David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."