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Cardinals resume Central push against Cubs

(SportsNetwork.com) - Not only did the first-place St. Louis Cardinals lose ground in their quest for the National League Central crown, but now they have to face one of the hottest pitchers in baseball.

The Cardinals try to grab a much-needed series win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday evening in the finale of a three-game series.

Though St. Louis rallied to tie last night's contest in the sixth inning on Matt Holliday's two-out, two-run homer, the offense went cold from there and Chicago was able to squeeze out a 4-3 victory in 10 innings.

Welington Castillo, who had hit a two-run homer in the second inning for Chicago, drove in Anthony Rizzo in the extra frame as the Cubs played spoiler, having lost four of five coming in.

"I feel really good," said Castillo. "I'm always thinking this is the last game of my life and just go with all that I got."

St. Louis lost for only the third time in its past 11 games, but the Pittsburgh Pirates were still able to pull within a 1 1/2 games of first place following a victory on Tuesday.

The Pirates have five games remaining to the Cardinals' four, as St. Louis is idle on Thursday before concluding the regular season with three games in Arizona. The playoff-bound Cards have a magic number of four to clinch the division.

"Our guys did a great job of getting us back in the game," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.

Matheny's club will now try to solve Jake Arrieta in the Cubs' home finale of 2014. Arrieta has won three of his last four decisions and is a solid 9-5 on the year with a 2.65 earned run average.

Arrieta faced the minimum through seven innings in last Tuesday's 7-0 win over Cincinnati and was five outs away from a no-hitter before giving up his only hit of the outing. He also walked a batter and struck out a career-high 13 in his first career complete game.

The right-hander also became the first Cub since 1950 to take no-hitters into the seventh inning three times in one season.

"Frustrated isn't really the right word," Arrieta told the Cubs' website, "but I was able to take a deep breath, and let it out, and say, 'All right, it's over now, so let's try to get a few more outs.'

"I think it was a little easier having those experiences early in the season," he said. "I was able to slow it down and take it one pitch at a time, and I know that's as cliche as it gets, but in those situations that's what you have to do."

Arrieta is 1-0 with a 1.21 ERA in four career starts versus the Cardinals, who counter with a hopefully rejuvenated John Lackey.

Lackey was given some extra rest due to arm fatigue and responded by beating the Reds on Friday. He scattered a run and six hits over 7 2/3 innings, striking out five without a walk.

The 35-year-old was making his first start since Sept. 10 versus the Reds, an outing that ended in the third inning when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Lackey is 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA since being acquired from Boston and is 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two previous meetings with the Cubs.

The Cardinals are 10-8 against the Cubs this season.

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