CHICAGO – Felipe Lopez hit a tie-breaking solo homer in the 11th inning to help the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 4-3 on Sunday night and avoid a weekend sweep.
Lopez drove a 3-2 pitch from Brian Schlitter (0-1) over the right-field wall for his sixth homer of the season to put the Cardinals back in the NL Central lead, a half game ahead of Cincinnati.
The big hit came one day after Lopez was scratched from the starting lineup for reportedly arriving late to the ballpark. It also made a winner of closer Ryan Franklin (5-1), who pitched two innings.
The Cubs had one last chance, but Dennys Reyes struck out Kosuke Fukudome with the tying run on second for his first save, pumping his left fist as a wild game came to an end.
Chicago scored two off Chris Carpenter in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead when Albert Pujols led off the sixth against Ryan Dempster with his 23rd homer. He barely missed a two-run shot in the seventh with a fly to the left-field warning track after Ryan Ludwick singled with two out.
Carpenter and Dempster each gave up three runs and nine hits over seven shaky innings, and both teams wasted big opportunities late in the game.
The biggest chances for both came in the 10th. The Cardinals got one-out singles by Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker — his fourth hit — against Schlitter before Yadier Molina grounded into a double play to end the threat.
In the bottom half, Fukudome led off with a single to right against Franklin and got forced on Tyler Colvin's bouncer to the mound. Cubs fans booed, thinking the throw to second pulled shortstop Brendan Ryan off the bag, and manager Lou Piniella came out for a mild argument.
Colvin then stole second and dove back to the base, barely beating the tag after the throw bounced toward center. Starlin Castro got hit in the left side, and after Derrek Lee popped out, and Aramis Ramirez drove a hard one-hopper that Schumaker booted for an error.
That loaded the bases for Marlon Byrd, who struck out looking at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.
NOTES: Holliday has a 10-game hitting streak. The nine hits allowed tied a season-high for Dempster. ... Bobby Valentine would like to manager the Cubs. The ESPN analyst and former New York Mets and Texas Rangers manager said he's interested in taking over for the retiring Lou Piniella after this season. Valentine, who led the Mets to the pennant in 2000 and managed the Texas Rangers, called the Cubs job "one of the most coveted positions in all of sports" and added "anybody who thinks of himself as a manager would love to be considered as one of the people who might take his place." ... Carlos Zambrano will likely make one more appearance with Triple-A Iowa before rejoining the Chicago Cubs next weekend. Manager Lou Piniella said he'll probably return during their series at Colorado.