ST. LOUIS -- There's life in the Cardinals yet.
A team that has made a habit of getting to some of the toughest closers in the league did it again on Saturday. St. Louis scratched out two runs against Carlos Marmol for a stunning and desperately needed 2-1 win against the Cubs at Busch Stadium. With the win, the Cardinals moved back within two games of the Braves in the National League Wild Card race. Atlanta lost, 4-1, to Washington.
The Braves' magic number to clinch the Wild Card remained at three with four games still scheduled in the regular season. Any combination of three Braves wins and Cardinals losses over the final four days will eliminate St. Louis. With two more wins or Cardinals losses, the Braves would ensure that they could do no worse than a one-game playoff, which would take place at Busch Stadium on Thursday.
"Four games left, it looks better two games out than three games out," said Albert Pujols, who was 0-for-3 with a walk.
A wild pitch scored pinch-runner Adron Chambers with the winning run as a Busch Stadium crowd numbered at 42,571 erupted. St. Louis trailed from the top of the first until the bottom of the ninth.
Matt Holliday got the inning going with a one-out single to center. He was removed for pinch-runner Tyler Greene, who stole second and took third base thanks to an error on the play. That surely increased the pressure on Marmol, who had trouble finding the strike zone from there on out. After David Freese struck out, Marmol walked Yadier Molina and Skip Schumaker to load the bases.
Chambers pinch-ran for Molina, a move that proved invaluable. Marmol couldn't find the zone against ex-teammate Ryan Theriot, walking him on six pitches as Theriot never swung the bat. With an 0-1 count against Rafael Furcal, Marmol uncorked the wild pitch that scored Chambers.
"We're trying to score, you know?" said the speedy rookie. "Any way, walk, base hit, passed ball. I was ready for a passed ball. I was just trying to touch home plate before they tagged me."
Marmol suffered his first blown save since Sept. 3 and only his third in more than two months. He had finished out the Cubs' win the night before.
"Marm's command just deserted him today," said Cubs manager Mike Quade. "You get beat with strikes, so be it. We didn't do anything offensively. It's just a tough day for Marmol."
The comeback allowed Jason Motte to be the winning pitcher. Motte got the last two outs of the top of the ninth, completing an outstanding pitching day for the Cards. Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski also contributed perfect relief work behind seven strong innings from Kyle Lohse.
St. Louis had lost its previous two games. The Cardinals have now won 20 of their last 28 games.
Rodrigo Lopez, a pitcher who has tended to struggle against the Cardinals, stifled them on a cool, bright afternoon. In contrast to Friday night's win by Chicago, the Cardinals scarcely even threatened against Lopez, managing four hits and two walks over six innings.
That obscured a superb performance by Lohse, who has been coming on lately. Lohse struck out a season-high eight batters over seven innings, and didn't permit a Cubs hitter to reach second base after the first inning.
"I feel as strong as I have all year right now," Lohse said. "Whether that's because I was reeled back in a little bit or whatever it was, that's behind me now. I feel strong right now."
Lohse would start a tiebreaker game in five days if the Cardinals were to force one.
Before the ninth, the Cards' only significant threat came in the sixth inning, when a walk and a single put men on the corners with one out. But Holliday hit a grounder to the left side for the first out and David Freese lined out to end the inning.
Lopez entered the game with a lifetime record of 2-5 and a 6.70 ERA against St. Louis, and several Cardinals brought gaudy personal statistics against him into the matchup. But it didn't matter on Saturday, as he spotted his fastball and frustrated the team that leads the National League in runs scored.
However, the Redbirds were able to break through against the Chicago bullpen and keep a little breath in their hopes for another day.
"We have to win every single game," Schumaker said. "Just cut to the chase here. We have to win every single game. So this was as big as any single game. It's a really big, big deal for us to win that game in that fashion."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.