Plenty of more meaningful games in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry have been played since they first met in 1892, but few have provided as much drama as did Saturday's before 40,864 at Wrigley Field.
Phil Nevin's run-scoring single off Jason Isringhausen brought home the winning run with one out in the 10th inning of a 5-4 Cubs' victory. But Juan Pierre saved the day one inning earlier by robbing Albert Pujols with a leaping catch in the vines.
"Juan's a baseball player," manager Dusty Baker said. "And that's what ballplayers do."
The Cubs won for the eighth time in nine meetings with St. Louis at Wrigley and lead the all-time series 1,125-1,063.
"Games like this make it a lot of fun," Pierre said. "Whether we're 20 games over or 20 games under, to be able to come out here and compete, that's what it's all about for me."
The fireworks began after Nevin's pinch-hit bloop single to center brought home the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth, putting the Cubs ahead 4-3.
Baker then called on Ryan Dempster to save the game for Bob Howry, who'd blown the lead for Carlos Zambrano in the eighth by giving up a solo homer to Chris Duncan.
Dempster had converted his last 12 save opportunities dating to July 5, but he promptly coughed up the lead. He walked pinch-hitter Jim Edmonds leading off before Ronnie Belliard hit a game-tying double to the wall in left-center.
After a sacrifice, a four-pitch walk to Timo Perez and another walk to Aaron Miles to load the bases, Baker gave Dempster another unceremonious hook. Will Ohman, however, struck out Juan Encarnacion for the second out before Baker called on Michael Wuertz to face Pujols, arguably the most dangerous hitter in the game.
Pujols cranked a deep drive to left-center that sent Pierre to the wall. Fans stood on their tiptoes to see if it would land in the basket for a go-ahead grand slam.
"When that ball went up, I didn't think there was any way in heck this ballpark was going to hold Albert Pujols," Baker said.
But the 6-foot Pierre leaped and stretched as high as he could, and when the ball landed in his mitt and chunks of ivy flew in every direction, the ballpark erupted like a sonic boom.
"Sometimes this ballpark giveth, and [sometimes it] taketh away," Baker said. "You just don't know which one it's going to be."
Pierre dashed to the dugout triumphantly as his teammates waited near the entrance to greet him.
"I knew where I was and finally got back on it in time," Pierre said. "I just didn't know if it was going to hit the basket. I think this year I've had two or three that hit right off my glove like that, so it felt good to bring one down."
Jacque Jones ignited the game-winning rally with a double to right to start the 10th, and Angel Pagan reached safely on a bunt, sending the potential winning run to third.
After Henry Blanco struck out, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ordered an intentional walk to Ronny Cedeno so Isringhausen could face Nevin. The strategy was spoiled, however, when Nevin lined the first pitch to left-center, starting the party on the infield.
"It was a day that, since I got traded here, you look forward to wins like that," Nevin said. "I think it's the first time since I've been here we've left somebody on the field in the ninth inning or in extra innings.
"The atmosphere here is unbelievable, even with where we're at in the standings. That's the stuff that keeps you coming back. It's the reason we play the game."
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