Albert Almora Jr. provided a big lift for the Chicago Cubs with a birthday present for his mom.
Almora robbed Matt Adams of a home run and Javier Baez made a terrific sliding stop on Kolten Wong's game-ending grounder, sending Jake Arrieta and the Cubs to a 2-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.
It looked as if the Cardinals had tied the game in the seventh, but Almora tracked Adams' deep fly ball to the wall and hauled it in with a leaping grab at the top of the fence in center. A pumped-up Almora then celebrated with left fielder Kyle Schwarber as Adams tipped his batting helmet in appreciation of the play.
"Yesterday was my mother's birthday, and I told her, `I'm going to hit you a homer,'" Almora said. "Then I didn't, but then I told her `I didn't hit you one, but I robbed you one,' and she loved it and thought it was pretty funny. I love playing defense, and I love helping out my team."
St. Louis had a runner on first in the ninth when Baez went into short right field to take a hit away from Wong. The Cardinals challenged the bang-bang play, but the call was confirmed.
Arrieta pitched six innings of one-run ball, helping the World Series champions bounce back from a wild 4-3 loss to St. Louis on Sunday night. Willson Contreras hit a tying three-run homer in the ninth inning of the opener, but the Cardinals won it in the bottom half on Randal Grichuk's game-ending single.
Arrieta improved to 8-2 in 14 career starts against St. Louis. Koji Uehara then worked the seventh and Pedro Strop got three outs before Wade Davis finished for his first save since he was acquired in an offseason trade with Kansas City.
Adam Wainwright allowed two runs and three hits in five innings for St. Louis. The right-hander is hoping to bounce back this season after recording a 4.62 ERA last year.
The Cardinals also lost Stephen Piscotty to a head contusion in the fifth, part of a rough inning for the outfielder.
Piscotty reached when he was hit by a pitch from Arrieta. He was hit again by Contreras' throw when he stole second. He then scored from second on Wong's infield hit to the right side of the mound, but he was hit in the head by Baez's throw home.
Baez was charged with two errors on the play. Piscotty, who agreed to a $33.5 million, six-year contract a day earlier, was down on the field for several minutes. He eventually walked off the field.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he would be evaluated for a concussion later Tuesday night and on Wednesday.
"I've never seen (a trip around the bases) like that before," Matheny said.
Chicago jumped in front with two in the fourth. Addison Russell doubled and scored on Jason Heyward's single to center. Contreras then scampered home on Baez's safety squeeze.
It was Almora's first game of the season. The last time Almora was on the field in a game that mattered, he used some savvy baserunning to help set up the go-ahead run in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
Almora and Jon Jay are expected to draw most of the starts in center field after Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals over the winter. Almora hit .318 and drove in 16 runs in 23 games during spring training.
Ben Zobrist was out of the starting lineup, something manager Joe Maddon said had less to do with early rest for the 35-year-old and more to do with getting Almora in the lineup. "It's too early to worry about days off; I'm just trying to get people involved," Maddon said.
Fowler, playing in his second game for St. Louis after leaving the Cubs in the offseason, wasn't surprised by Baez's run-scoring bunt. Fowler has seen that kind of call many times before from Maddon.
"I played over there for two years, and Joe does what Joe does," Fowler said. "It works out a lot of the time."
With a 90 percent chance of rain in the forecast, the teams are scheduled to close out the series on Wednesday afternoon. St. Louis right-hander Lance Lynn is set to make his debut after missing all of last season following elbow surgery, while Chicago right-hander John Lackey takes the mound after going 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA last season.