Cubs 5, Cardinals 1

Ryan Dempster kept it close, setting the stage for Alfonso

Soriano’s big hit. He’s finishing the year strong, even though the

numbers don’t reflect it.

The Chicago Cubs starter worked six strong innings in a 5-1

victory Friday night that dealt the St. Louis Cardinals’ wild-card

hopes a serious blow, dropping them three games behind the Atlanta

Braves.

It’s Dempster’s fifth quality start in five tries this month and

he expects to top 200 innings in his final outing, although he’s a

deceptive 0-3 with a 3.34 ERA in September.

”I’m just trying to finish as strong as I can, and every time

out give us a chance to win a ballgame,” Dempster said. ”I’ve

been on teams that lost 100-something games in a year, so the more

games I can help us win that’s the most important thing.”

The Cardinals defeat also clinched the NL Central for

Milwaukee.

”I knew it was going to be tough, but you always know that when

you’re facing this team,” Dempster said. ”They’re always

prepared, they’re always ready and they’ve got a bunch of good

players.”

Chris Carpenter was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of

the seventh after throwing 93 pitches. The St. Louis bullpen got

punished for the second straight game when Soriano hit a three-run

tiebreakikng homer off Kyle McClellan (12-7). Starlin Castro added

an RBI single off Mitchell Boggs in the ninth.

”He’s gotten some big hits and RBIs in the last month and a

half for us,” manager Mike Quade said. ”He’s hit a lot of them,

it’s not like he hit his 12th.”

The Cardinals missed a chance to narrow their wild-card deficit

to one game on Thursday when they let the New York Mets score six

runs in the ninth off three relievers. Now, after the fourth loss

in 16 games, they have just five games left to catch Atlanta.

”We’re not worried about if its St. Louis or Atlanta who makes

the playoffs,” Soriano said. ”I hope the Cardinals make the

playoffs but they have to work hard because nothing is given in

this game.”

Shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose fielding error opened the door

for the Mets’ big inning, did not play. He has five errors in his

last six games.

St. Louis grounded into three double plays, the last in the

eighth after getting two hits off Jeff Samardzija (8-4), and lead

the major leagues with 165. They’re one shy of their own NL record

set in 1958.

Carpenter allowed a run on five hits in seven innings, coming on

the heels of eight shutout innings in his last start against the

Phillies. His squeeze bunt in the second drove in the Cardinals’

lone run.

The Cardinals surpassed 3 million in attendance for the eighth

straight season with a crowd of 40,355.

Castro opened the game with a single for his 200th hit, at age

21 becoming the youngest player in Cubs history to do it. Carlos

Pena had an RBI double in the sixth and three walks to give him 97

on the year, the most by a Cubs first baseman in statistics kept

since 1900.

Castro’s among 10 players to reach 200 hits at age 21 years or

younger during the modern era and the first since Alex Rodriguez

for Seattle in 1995. Others on the list are Garry Templeton of St.

Louis (1977), Vada Pinson of Cincinnati (1959), Al Kaline of

Detroit (1955), Buddy Lewis of Washington (1937), Joe Dimaggio of

the Yankees (1936), Hal Trosky of Cleveland (1934), Lloyd Waner of

Pittsburgh (1927) and Ty Cobb of Detroit (1907).

Darwin Barney tripled to lead off the eighth and Pena was

intentionally walked with one out before Soriano, who’s 4 for 8

with two homers and five RBIs against McClellan, hit his first

homer since Aug. 30 into the visitors’ bullpen in left.

The Cardinals loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on two

walks and a single. Dempster fell behind 2-0 in the count to each

of the first four hitters but Ryan Theriot grounded into a double

play swinging on the first pitch.

Dempster allowed a run on four hits in six innings, his fifth

quality start in five tries this month with nothing to show for it.

He’s 0-3 in September despite a 3.34 ERA, and 0-5 in his last seven

overall.

NOTES: Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.47) opposes Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.71)

in the second game of the series Saturday. Lopez is 2-5 with a 6.70

ERA against the Cardinals and Lohse is one shy of his career high

for wins. … The Cardinals honored farm clubs Johnson City

(Appalachian) and Quad Cities (Midwest) for championship seasons in

a pregame ceremony. … Cubs 3B D.J. LeMahieu made an outstanding

leaping catch on Theriot’s liner to end the fourth. Carpenter

nimbly fielded Castro’s squibber and made a nice throw to end the

fifth.