ST. LOUIS (AP) - Ryan Dempster kept it close, setting the stage for Alfonso Soriano's big hit. He's finishing the year strong, even though the numbers don't reflect it.
The Chicago Cubs starter worked six strong innings in a 5-1 victory Friday night that dealt the St. Louis Cardinals' wild-card hopes a serious blow, dropping them three games behind the Atlanta Braves.
It's Dempster's fifth quality start in five tries this month and he expects to top 200 innings in his final outing, although he's a deceptive 0-3 with a 3.34 ERA in September.
``I'm just trying to finish as strong as I can, and every time out give us a chance to win a ballgame,' Dempster said. ``I've been on teams that lost 100-something games in a year, so the more games I can help us win that's the most important thing.'
The Cardinals defeat also clinched the NL Central for Milwaukee.
``I knew it was going to be tough, but you always know that when you're facing this team,' Dempster said. ``They're always prepared, they're always ready and they've got a bunch of good players.'
Chris Carpenter was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh after throwing 93 pitches. The St. Louis bullpen got punished for the second straight game when Soriano hit a three-run tiebreakikng homer off Kyle McClellan (12-7). Starlin Castro added an RBI single off Mitchell Boggs in the ninth.
``He's gotten some big hits and RBIs in the last month and a half for us,' manager Mike Quade said. ``He's hit a lot of them, it's not like he hit his 12th.'
The Cardinals missed a chance to narrow their wild-card deficit to one game on Thursday when they let the New York Mets score six runs in the ninth off three relievers. Now, after the fourth loss in 16 games, they have just five games left to catch Atlanta.
``We're not worried about if its St. Louis or Atlanta who makes the playoffs,' Soriano said. ``I hope the Cardinals make the playoffs but they have to work hard because nothing is given in this game.'
Shortstop Rafael Furcal, whose fielding error opened the door for the Mets' big inning, did not play. He has five errors in his last six games.
St. Louis grounded into three double plays, the last in the eighth after getting two hits off Jeff Samardzija (8-4), and lead the major leagues with 165. They're one shy of their own NL record set in 1958.
Carpenter allowed a run on five hits in seven innings, coming on the heels of eight shutout innings in his last start against the Phillies. His squeeze bunt in the second drove in the Cardinals' lone run.
The Cardinals surpassed 3 million in attendance for the eighth straight season with a crowd of 40,355.
Castro opened the game with a single for his 200th hit, at age 21 becoming the youngest player in Cubs history to do it. Carlos Pena had an RBI double in the sixth and three walks to give him 97 on the year, the most by a Cubs first baseman in statistics kept since 1900.
Castro's among 10 players to reach 200 hits at age 21 years or younger during the modern era and the first since Alex Rodriguez for Seattle in 1995. Others on the list are Garry Templeton of St. Louis (1977), Vada Pinson of Cincinnati (1959), Al Kaline of Detroit (1955), Buddy Lewis of Washington (1937), Joe Dimaggio of the Yankees (1936), Hal Trosky of Cleveland (1934), Lloyd Waner of Pittsburgh (1927) and Ty Cobb of Detroit (1907).
Darwin Barney tripled to lead off the eighth and Pena was intentionally walked with one out before Soriano, who's 4 for 8 with two homers and five RBIs against McClellan, hit his first homer since Aug. 30 into the visitors' bullpen in left.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with one out in the sixth on two walks and a single. Dempster fell behind 2-0 in the count to each of the first four hitters but Ryan Theriot grounded into a double play swinging on the first pitch.
Dempster allowed a run on four hits in six innings, his fifth quality start in five tries this month with nothing to show for it. He's 0-3 in September despite a 3.34 ERA, and 0-5 in his last seven overall.
NOTES: Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.47) opposes Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.71) in the second game of the series Saturday. Lopez is 2-5 with a 6.70 ERA against the Cardinals and Lohse is one shy of his career high for wins. ... The Cardinals honored farm clubs Johnson City (Appalachian) and Quad Cities (Midwest) for championship seasons in a pregame ceremony. ... Cubs 3B D.J. LeMahieu made an outstanding leaping catch on Theriot's liner to end the fourth. Carpenter nimbly fielded Castro's squibber and made a nice throw to end the fifth.
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