ST. LOUIS (AP) – Randal Grichuk smiled as he backed away from a mob of St. Louis Cardinals chasing him around the field. Then he stopped and jumped into the air for a celebratory collision with Dexter Fowler.
It was wet and wild, and far from a masterpiece. But opening day was a ton of fun for Grichuk & Co.
Grichuk hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning and a game-ending RBI single in the ninth, helping the Cardinals top the Chicago Cubs 4-3 on Sunday.
“It’s just a night I won’t forget,” Grichuk said.
Jose Martinez sparked the winning rally with a pinch-hit double against Mike Montgomery, who closed out the World Series in November for Chicago’s first title since 1908. Yadier Molina then was awarded the first no-pitch intentional walk in major league history, part of baseball’s offseason rule changes designed to speed up the game.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Grichuk lined a 1-1 pitch into the gap in left-center for his second career game-ending hit. He was mobbed as he rounded first in the rain, and what was left of a sellout crowd of 47,566 cheered wildly.
“Every win is meaningful, but definitely not making the playoffs last year and seeing them win it put a little sour taste in our mouth,” Grichuk said. “So, it’s good to get any (win), but definitely opening day against them is a little sweeter.”
The Cardinals appeared set for a tidy 3-0 win before the Cubs rallied in the ninth. Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch from Seung-hwan Oh and Jason Heyward singled before Willson Contreras hit a drive to left for a tying homer.
“A great at-bat,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “The ball really did jump right there.”
Before the dramatic finish, the night belonged to Carlos Martinez, who retired 12 in a row and 18 of 19 over one stretch against the defending champions. The ace right-hander struck out 10 and walked none in 7 1/3 innings in his first start on opening day.
Jon Lester kept Chicago in the game with five effective innings despite not having his best stuff. Kyle Schwarber reached three times in his first game as the leadoff hitter since Fowler left the Cubs over the winter for an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the Cardinals.
“Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat to the other team, too,” Lester said. “They fouled a lot of pitches off.”
St. Louis went 86-76 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, but the additions of Fowler and reliever Brett Cecil ramped up the optimism for this season. The Cardinals got another positive jolt when they announced a new contract for Molina earlier in the day that runs through the 2020 season.
“I’m just glad that we got it done because this is the right place to be,” he said.
The crowd at Busch Stadium roared its approval when Molina was introduced before the game, prompting the catcher to doff his cap twice as the cheers continued.
He got another standing ovation when he came to the plate for the first time in the second inning, and there were chants of “Ya-di! Ya-di!” before he grounded a single back up the middle.
Fowler also heard all cheers all night long, and he used his legs to get St. Louis on the board in the third. He reached on an infield single, scampered over to third on Aledmys Diaz’s single to center and scored on Matt Carpenter’s fly ball to right.
MORE ON MOLINA
Molina made his 13th consecutive start on opening day, third most in franchise history behind Stan Musial (18) and Lou Brock (15), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Following a day off, right-handers Jake Arrieta of the Cubs and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals get the ball on Tuesday night. Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts last year. Wainwright is looking to bounce back after going 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA last season.
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