ST. LOUIS – On his mom’s birthday Monday, Albert Almora Jr. promised her he would hit her a home run.
The Cubs center fielder had to settle for the next best thing – reaching over the fence in the seventh inning to rob Matt Adams of a would-be homer to preserve a 2-1 lead that held up for a Cubs victory over the Cardinals on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
“I told her, I didn’t hit you one, but I robbed you one,” Almora said after the game in which Jake Arrieta (1-0) flashed 2015 Cy Young form in a six-inning season debut. “She thought that was pretty funny, and she loved it.
“I love playing defense, and helping my team out,” he added. “My top moment of the night was when I came in and Jake gave me a big hug.”
Arrieta said he owes Almora for the “game saver.”
But if he’s handing out gifts for defensive plays on this night, he’s going to need more than a few trips to the ATM – to cover something for right fielder Jason Heyward’s leaping catch of a Matt Carpenter drive in the gap in the sixth, a couple of tough plays at third by Kris Bryant and two exceptional plays by second baseman Javy Baez.
That included the final play of the game when Baez dove to his left to smother Kolten Wong’s grounder deep on the grass in shallow right, then jumped to his feet to throw him out by less than half a step – a call that stood up only after a 1-minute, 9-second review.
“It was all about defense tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We made plays.”
Arrieta’s start was hard to overlook, especially the first two times through the Cardinals order. He retired the first nine he faced – striking out five of the first seven – and 13 of 14 before hitting Stephen Piscotty with a pitch in the fifth.
“The ball was moving a lot,” Maddon said. “It was very reminiscent of a couple years ago, his strike throwing and the way the hitters reacted to the pitch.”
The only run to score against him was unearned and cost Piscotty the most painful trip around the bases of his career.
After being hit by the pitch, Piscotty advanced to second on a wild pitch – but not before catcher Willson Contreras hit him with a throw down to second.
Then when Wong’s tapper toward second was muffed by Baez trying to bare-hand it, Piscotty continued around third only to get hit in the head on Baez’ subsequent throw to the plate as he slide safely for the run.
Piscotty lay for a couple minutes on the ground before eventually walking off the field, looking woozy. He left the game, and the Cardinals said he suffered a bruised head and will be evaluated Wednesday morning.
Baez was charged with two errors on the play.
The Cubs and Cardinals are bracing for the possibility that Wednesday’s series finale will be rained out, with a storm moving in overnight that’s forecast to linger in St. Louis throughout the day.
The Cardinals were said to be pushing for the would-be makeup game to be played on the teams’ mutual day off Thursday, against the Cubs’ wishes.
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