Cubs down St. Louis; Cards' playoff hopes continue to fade

Alfonso Soriano's tiebreaking three-run homer did more than just lead the Chicago Cubs to a win over rival St. Louis.

It put a big dent in the Cardinals' playoff chances.

Soriano's blast in the eighth inning snapped a 1-1 tie, and the Cubs held on for a 5-1 victory Friday night that knocked the Cardinals three games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL wild-card lead.

Chicago's win also handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first NL Central division title. The Brewers beat Florida earlier Friday and moved an insurmountable six games ahead of the Cardinals with five to play.

Looking at a short window to make another push, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa called the loss "harmful." It was just their fourth setback in 16 games.

After St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter allowed just one run in seven innings, Soriano homered off Kyle McClellan (12-7) with one out in the eighth, belting a 2-0 slider into the Cubs bullpen to make it 4-1.

"We felt like we had to win this series to have a shot," La Russa said. "That means we have to win tomorrow and the next day."

Starlin Castro capped a historic night with an RBI single in the ninth inning for an insurance run.

Earlier, Castro looped a single into center field on the second pitch of the game to become the youngest player -- and first shortstop -- in franchise history with 200 hits in a season.

Castro, 21, went 2-for-5 and is only the fifth major league player since 1940 to reach the 200-hit milestone at 21 years old or younger. The last player was Alex Rodriguez in 1995 with the Seattle Mariners.

He also reached base safely for the 35th straight game, breaking a tie for the Cubs record among shortstops with Woody English, who reached base 34 games in a row in 1929.

"He's just going to get better and better and the sky's really the limit for him," said Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. "It's fun to watch somebody grow up with so much talent and have him on your team and really be a guy who will be one of the premier shortstops in the league for years to come."

Carpenter not only started the opener of this three-game series, he knocked in its first run with a sacrifice bunt to score Skip Schumaker in the second inning.

It was the only run allowed by Dempster, who pitched six innings and gave up four hits and six walks. Jeff Samardzija (8-4) twirled a scoreless seventh for the win.

The Cubs tied the game in the top of the sixth when Darwin Barney hit a leadoff single and scored on Carlos Pena's double.

Game Notes

Castro joined Rodriguez, Garry Templeton (1977), Vada Pinson (1959) and Al Kaline (1955) as the only players 21 years old or younger to reach 200 since 1940. Prior to Friday, the youngest Cubs players to reach the milestone were Billy Herman (1932) and Augie Galan (1935) at the age of 23...The Cubs started a six-game road trip to end the season...Although Chicago came out on top, Dempster remained winless in his last eight starts since a victory on August 11.