CHICAGO – It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anyone that the Cubs beat St. Louis on Friday. Sure, Cardinals fans likely had their fingers crossed and a bit of lingering hope in the backs of their minds that their team could pull out back-to-back wins against their division rivals, but the odds were heavily stacked against them.

A rookie pitcher in P.J. Walters had no business being even close to picking up a win in his major league debut against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, especially when his counterpart – Carlos Zambrano – was Chicago’s ace starter.

But what should have St. Louis fans excited and Chicago faithful scratching their heads is that Walters was in position to possibly get the win and that it wasn’t the Cubs bullpen that blew a lead, but rather the pitcher that is supposed to guide the team through the season that surrendered seven runs on nine hits. The two Chicago relievers – Aaron Heilman and Carlos Marmol combined to allow only one hit and one walk.

Walters matched Big Z in strikeouts (7) and the Cardinals nearly held on for the win using three Triple-A pitchers in Walters, Mitchell Boggs and Chris Perez. St. Louis had plenty of offense provided by two home runs from Ryan Ludwick and one from Brian Barden accounting for five of the team’s seven runs.

But it was Chicago’s lone homer from Alfonso Soriano that put the Cubs back in front.

Nearly pulling off a win with a rookie pitcher filling in for the injured Chris Carpenter should put a slight spring in the Cardinals’ steps along with the fact that the pitching matchups are relatively even for the final two games of the series.

One note to watch out for in today’s game as well as Sunday’s finale is possible retaliation from Tony La Russa.

In the top of the ninth, the Cardinals trailed by one and Marmol had just walked Colby Rasmus on four pitches. On the very next pitch, Marmol hit Albert Pujols in the elbow leaving him with a sore arm that might keep him out of Saturday’s contest. It’s possible that it was unintentional, despite the Cubs making it clear before the series even started that they would not pitch to the St. Louis slugger in situations just like the one in the ninth inning.

It’s possible that Marmol was just wild and having control issues. But after throwing five consecutive balls with only a one-run lead and hitting a batter to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, the dangerous Ludwick no less – who eventually struck out – there was no attempt from the Cubs’ catcher or a member of the coaching staff to calm Marmol’s nerves. No meeting on the mound, just a presence and approach that things were going as planned.

Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it’s in La Russa’s game plan and reputation. You hit my pitcher, I’ll hit yours. You hit my star, I’ll take care of yours. Soriano might be among the list of Cubs feeling a bit sore by the end of the weekend.

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