ST. LOUIS – The Cubs experienced the in-your-face intensity of a pennant race, a sellout crowd of 45,148 seeing red. The temperature hit 86 degrees at first pitch and the heat index kept rising.
It ended in another letdown, the Cubs blowing a five-run lead and the St. Louis Cardinals coming back for a 9-6 victory on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Cub fans have seen this movie before.
But the feeling inside the visiting clubhouse after splitting a four-game series: The Cubs are coming in the National League Central. (Or at least not using next Labor Day weekend to just audition kids from Triple-A Iowa.)
So get used to moments like this, Cardinals pitcher John Lackey and Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro jawing at each other near first base in the middle of the fourth inning. Castro had just flown out to center and Lackey – who’s known for having a short fuse and a prickly personality – walked back toward his dugout.
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“I don’t know what his problem is,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.
Cubs first-base coach Eric Hinske and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina tried to defuse the situation. Castro and Molina tapped each other and appeared to make peace.
“When I missed the pitch, I said something to myself in Spanish,” Castro said. “(Lackey) said something, but I didn’t really hear what he had to say. I came back and (Molina) told me something like: Don’t worry about it. Stay away. It’s nothing.”
Theo Epstein gave an $82.5 million deal to Lackey, who moved past the fried-chicken-and-beer controversy, helped the Boston Red Sox win last year’s World Series and got traded to St. Louis for another playoff push.
“Everybody has different emotions,” Castro said. “If you miss the location, you’d be mad, too. If you miss a pitch, everybody gets mad. I didn’t say nothing to him. I don’t understand. I didn’t offend him. I don’t know. I said something in Spanish about me, nothing to him.”
Lackey committed a throwing error that helped the Cubs build that early 5-0 lead. In the middle of the fifth inning, Lackey walked off the mound and found Hinske, a popular ex-player who’s now in his first year of coaching.
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“He’s competing,” Hinske said. “Yadi came over and said: Just chill out. And I was like: Well, I don’t know what he’s talking about.
“The next inning (Lackey) came over and explained to me what he had a problem with. And I told him: OK, just chill out. Let’s relax.”
According to Hinske, “(Castro) said something that Lackey didn’t like.”
So you were just being a peacemaker?
“Yeah, I’m a coach now,” Hinske said.
The Cardinals (73-63) moved into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers and took advantage of the growing-pains moments, whether it was converted outfielder Arismendy Alcantara running down a ball in center but not catching it at the warning track. Or scoring the game-tying run in the seventh inning when Molina hit a chopper up the middle that skipped past converted second baseman Javier Baez.
Travis Wood couldn’t finish the fifth inning and Carlos Villanueva couldn’t escape a leadoff-double, bases-loaded jam in the eighth. The Cardinals got the bounces when Matt Holliday’s two-out rocket ricocheted off the mound and into left field for the go-ahead run.
“It’s really emotional, because that’s the team that’s fighting to make the playoffs,” Castro said. “(That other stuff) doesn’t matter when we win, when we beat those guys.
“We’re a good team. We’re trying to play hard every day. It doesn’t matter what team (we play). We just play hard and (want to) show those guys that we can be ready next year.”