CHICAGO — Turns out a winning streak, like that other elusive critter momentum, can only go as far as the next day’s starting pitcher takes it.
The Cardinals, on the brink of their first sweep of the season, tripped on the mound when starter Jordan Montgomery could not continue his mastery of the archrival Cubs. Regardless of whether he was wearing blue pinstripes or red feathers on his jersey, Montgomery had vexed his hosts at Wrigley Field — until he did not.
The Cubs blitzed the Cardinals starter for six runs — five in the span of two innings — and trucked over and out to a 10-4 victory Wednesday night at the Friendly Confines. The loss ended the Cardinals’ first and only winning streak of the season at three games and kept them from sweeping the first series of the season when they won the first game of the series. The loss dropped the Cardinals to 13-25 through 38 games.
That is their worst 38-game start to a season since 1907.
Those were the days of the Cubs’ last dynasty.
When the Cardinals arrived at Wrigley for the three-game, all-night series, the Cubs were at .500, and the Cardinals leave having dragged their archrivals beneath the surface with them. The Cubs (18-19) salvaged the series with an alloy of power and pitcher Justin Steele. Their lefty was not as dominant as he has been throughout the season, but he contained the Cardinals’ rallies rather than enflamed them with walks and extra-base hits as Montgomery (2-5) did.
Nolan Arenado’s first triple since his cycle last season drove home the Cardinals’ first run. Former Cub Willson Contreras, urging the crowd to boo after everything he did, singled to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.
That was as far as Montgomery carried the momentum.
In five innings, the lefty allowed six runs on seven hits and three walks. Five of the seven hits he allowed went for extra bases. All six of the runs Montgomery allowed got their start as either a walk or extra-base hit. Montgomery went from not allowing a run at all in any of the 22 previous innings he pitched against the Cubs to allowing six in the span of 11 batters.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning in an attempt to tidy the score, not change it, but left them full.
Pitchers see streaks screech to ends
Both lefty starters, Montgomery and Steele (6-0), cruised into Wednesday’s series finale on successful streaks. Montgomery’s was centralized to the Cubs with a 4-0 record and an active 22-inning scoreless streak against the Cardinals’ rival.
Steele’s was more global as few teams score against him at all.
The Cubs’ 27-year-old lefty began Wednesday with a 5-0 record and 1.45 ERA this season that only hinted at a much longer run of success. Since this past summer’s All-Star break, Steele’s 1.24 ERA was the lowest in the majors for any pitcher with at least 14 games started. The Cardinals had not seen him in the span, had not seen him since his ERA was above 5.00 lats season and he was authoring his second quality start of the summer on June 5 — against them. But they had a feel for what to expect.
“When he has success he pounds the fastball in on the righty, relentless in there,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “And he plays his slider off of it. Good swing-and-miss. It’s a tough at-bat. He’s done a really nice job of pitching to his strength.”
That carried him to 14 consecutive starts without allowing more than two earned runs.
A nifty slide ended that.
In Steele’s sixth and final inning, Lars Nootbaar laced a single to center that gave Juan Yepez a chance to score from second. Yepez arrived at about the same time as the throw, maybe a half step behind it, and still was able to avoid the tag and tap the plate with a deft slide. The Cardinals’ third run ended Steele’s streak and momentarily cut the Cubs’ lead in half.
All six of those runs the Cubs had to make that lead came against Montgomery.
His streak was long over by the time Yepez melted Steele’s.
The Cardinals lefty’s streak of scoreless innings ended abruptly after 24 innings. He walked two batters before escaping a mess in the second inning only to encounter a worse one in the third inning. Two doubles, including one with two outs, put a welt on Montgomery’s pitching line for the first time — but what really smarted was the homer.
Patrick Wisdom drilled a two-run shot on Montgomery’s 2-0 pitch to obliterate the Cardinals’ lead and put the Cubs ahead for the first time.
It was also the first homer Montgomery had ever allowed a Cub in 30 2/3 innings.
A former Cardinals prospect who was traded several years ago to just add a left-handed-hitting outfielder for a different look off the bench, Wisdom has become a power source for the Cubs in their rebuild. The homer was his 12th of the season — as many for him as any of the Cardinals’ starters Wednesday combined. Wisdom’s homer lifted the Cubs to a 3-2 lead, and the next inning Yan Gomes pushed the Cubs further ahead with his sixth homer of the season.
Back on the active roster Wednesday, Gomes reached base in each of his first four plate appearances.
He circled them with a two-run shot in his fourth-inning at-bat.
That gave the Cubs a 5-2 lead.
When last the Cardinals used Drew VerHagen he provided essential innings that allowed a comeback Sunday that ended the eight-game losing streak. It also meant that he would be unavailable for the first two games of the series at Wrigley, and the right-hander was told as such coming into Chicago. The five-inning outing from Montgomery left some innings unmanned, and despite VerHagen’s usual use as a setup reliever, his availability prompted his appearance.
It when sideways swiftly.
Four of the first five batters VerHagen faced stung him for base hits. A three-run game mushroomed as the Cubs doubled their lead before VerHagen could get a second out. No. 9 hitter Christopher Morel, the Cubs’ designated hitter Wednesday, drilled a double to the right-center gap that drove home a teammate, and Dansby Swanson followed two batters later with a two-run double to left field.
That pair of RBIs gave Swanson five in the series and the double was his fifth extra-base hit in his first Cubs-Cardinals series of a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Cubs.
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