Thanks to late home runs from Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 on Tuesday night to advance to the NLCS for the first time since the 2003 season.
The game got off to a bad start for the Cubs as Jason Hammel gave up a single to Matt Carpenter, but things got even worse when Stephen Piscotty stepped up to the plate. The rookie hammered his third home run of the series to deep center, giving the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.
The Cubs went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first inning, but after Hammel shut down the Cardinals in the top of the second, he picked up his offense. With runners on first and third, Hammel smoked an RBI single up the middle to score Starlin Castro, and then the pitcher got to trot home as Javier Baez cracked his first career home run to deep right field to give the Cubs a 4-2 advantage.
Hammel managed to get through the third inning unscathed, but when he walked the lead-off hitter in the top of the fourth, he was removed by Joe Maddon. Justin Grimm came into the game and promptly struck out the side, including pinch-hitter Tommy Pham to keep the Cubs up by two runs.
The Cubs' bullpen dominance continued in the top of the fifth inning, as Travis Wood struck out Matt Carpenter and Piscotty. Matt Holliday became the first Cardinals batter to make contact with a pitch in six plate appearances, but his lazy fly ball fell softly into Dexter Fowler's glove to maintain the Cubs' lead.
The Cardinals refused to go quietly however, and they tied things up in the top of the sixth inning. Wood walked Heyward to start the frame out, and then Trevor Cahill surrendered a hit to Jhonny Peralta. Cahill did manage to strike out Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong for two outs, but a Tony Cruz double made it a 4-3 game. Brandon Moss pinch hit for Adam Wainwright with two outs, and although his single tied the game at 4-4, Jorge Soler gunned out Cruz at the plate to end the inning and keep the contest knotted up.
With two outs and nobody on-base, the Cardinals looked as though they'd get out of the bottom of the sixth inning, but Anthony Rizzo had other ideas. The Cubs first baseman launched his second home run in as many days to give the Cubs back the lead at 5-4.
After Fernando Rodney and Clayton Richard combined to send the Cardinals down in the seventh inning, Kyle Schwarber thanked the pitching staff with one emphatic swing. With Kevin Siegrist still on the mound, Schwarber launched a home run over the right field video board to give the Cubs a 6-4 lead.
Pedro Strop worked through a quick 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth, but the Cubs were unable to take advantage. Chris Denorfia came up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs, but he grounded out weakly to shortstop on a Trevor Rosenthal fastball to end the frame without his team tacking on an insurance run.
Hector Rondon struck out the first two batters of the ninth inning to bring the Wrigley crowd to its feet, and even after Carpenter hit a single to left field, Rondon remained unfazed as he struck out Piscotty to end the game and send the Cubs to the NLCS.
The Cubs will either play the New York Mets or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS beginning on Saturday. The Mets currently hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.