CHICAGO (AP) - Darwin Barney shook his head in disbelief as he looked back on Yadier Molina's big night. Travis Wood praised the talent throughout the St. Louis Cardinals' deep lineup.
So while the Chicago Cubs lost 10-6 to the NL Central leaders on Sunday, they were encouraged by how they played during a split of their final series before the All-Star break.
``We knew coming into the series, we've been playing good baseball and this was going to be a good test for us to see kind of where we're at,' Barney said. ``Obviously we were neck and neck with them. I think hopefully it's a sign for good things to come.'
Chicago went up 4-3 on Barney's three-run homer off Adam Wainwright in the sixth, and pinch hitter Cody Ransom had a tying two-run double in the eighth. But the Cubs' bullpen was unable to hold off the NL's highest-scoring team.
``We showed a lot of fight,' Barney said. ``We showed maybe what kind of character we have in those kind of games.'
St. Louis scored four times in the ninth to break it open. Allen Craig lined a tiebreaking RBI single into left field before Molina drove an 0-2 pitch from Kevin Gregg (2-2) over the wall in left for a three-run homer.
``We never give up,' said Molina, who finished with four hits and four RBIs. ``Whatever happens in the game or the inning before we're going to come after you.'
Barney also had a run-scoring single for the Cubs, who went 6-4 on a 10-game stretch in Chicago that included a makeup game at the crosstown White Sox last Monday. The four RBIs for Barney matched a career high set in a 14-4 victory against Pittsburgh on July 30, 2012.
After a slow start, the Cubs (42-51) are a respectable 24-21 in their last 45 games. It's good enough for a four-game improvement compared to last year at this point, when the North Siders were 38-55 on their way to their first 100-loss season since 1966.
``It's a half that could have gone a lot different, but I think a lot of guys have progressed, kind of taken strides in the right way,' said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who committed a mental gaffe in the eighth when he cut off a ball that might have got a runner at the plate.
Pete Kozma added three hits and two RBIs as St. Louis finished with a season-high 21 hits.
The Cardinals won for the seventh time in nine games to salvage a split of the four-game series. Edward Mujica (2-1) had his second blown save opportunity in 28 chances, but managed to get the win on the same day he was chosen to replace Wainwright on the NL All-Star team.
Despite injuries to key pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte, St. Louis heads to the All-Star break with baseball's best record at 57-36. It leads the NL Central by one game over surprising Pittsburgh, which lost 4-2 to the New York Mets earlier in the day.
``I can't express how proud I am the way these guys play the game,' manager Mike Matheny said. ``It was a very fitting way to end before the break.'
A big reason for St. Louis' success is the play of Craig and Molina, who are both headed to New York for Tuesday night's game at Citi Field. Craig is batting .489 (44 for 90) with runners in scoring position and leads the team with 74 RBIs. Molina leads the NL with a .341 batting average while playing his usual strong defense behind the plate.
``Gosh, Yadi's unbelievable,' Barney said. ``Sometimes you just don't know how to get the guy out.'
Wood, who will represent the Cubs at the All-Star festivities, allowed three runs and a season-high 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. It matched the shortest outing of the year for the consistent lefty, who pitched at least six innings in 17 of his first 18 starts.
``That's a great team over there, you know, from top to bottom,' Wood said.
Molina was out of the starting lineup for St. Louis' 6-4 loss on Saturday night and began the night in a 1-for-19 rut covering his previous seven games. But he singled in each of his first two at_bats, hit a leadoff double in the seventh and forced Bogusevic to make a leaping catch against the wall in center in the eighth.
``Tonight was me,' Molina said. ``Tonight I saw the ball pretty good and I made contact pretty solid.'
NOTES: Cardinals OF Matt Holliday (right hamstring tightness) missed his third consecutive game. ... Sveum said Bogusevic aggravated a hamstring injury. ... When asked about a report that the Cubs have notified him that he likely will be traded after extension talks stalled, RHP Matt Garza responded: ``I haven't heard anything like that.' ... Cubs RHP Scott Baker allowed four runs and six hits in three innings in his first rehab start with Class A Kane County. Baker missed last season with Minnesota after undergoing elbow-ligament replacement surgery. ``Today was a big hump, to pitch against hitters and getting in a real game and the whole atmosphere and everything,' Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, ``and then hopefully we just start seeing gradual pickup in the velocities and all that.'
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
The Associated Press News Service
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