ST. LOUIS (AP) — Randal Grichuk hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning and a game-ending RBI single in the ninth, helping the St. Louis Cardinals top the Chicago Cubs, 4-3, in a wild prime-time opener Sunday night.
Jose Martinez sparked the winning rally with a pinch-hit double against Mike Montgomery, who closed out Chicago’s World Series championship in November. Yadier Molina then was awarded the first no-pitch intentional walk in major league history, part of baseball’s offseason rule changes designed to speed up the game.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Grichuk lined a 1-2 pitch into the gap in left-center for his second career game-ending hit. He was mobbed as he rounded first in the rain, and what was left of a sellout crowd of 47,566 cheered wildly.
The Cardinals appeared set for a tidy 3-0 win before the Cubs rallied in the ninth. Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch from Seung-hwan Oh and Jason Heyward singled before Willson Contreras hit a drive to left for a tying homer.
Before the dramatic finish, the night belonged to St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez, who retired 12 in a row and 18 of 19 over one stretch against the defending champions. The ace right-hander struck out 10 and walked none in 7 1/3 innings in his first start on opening day.
Jon Lester kept Chicago in the game with five effective innings despite not having his best stuff. Kyle Schwarber reached three times in his first game as the leadoff hitter since Dexter Fowler left the Cubs for an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the Cardinals.
Martinez departed with runners on first and second and the Cardinals clinging to a 1-0 lead. He was saluted with a standing ovation.
Oh then came in and hit Schwarber with a pitch, loading the bases as it started to rain. But Oh retired NL MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on two fly balls to right, ending the inning.
St. Louis went 86-76 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010, but the winter additions of Fowler and reliever Brett Cecil ramped up the optimism for this season. The Cardinals got another positive jolt when they announced a new contract for Molina earlier in the day that runs through the 2020 season.
The sellout crowd at Busch Stadium roared its approval when Molina was introduced before the game, prompting the catcher to doff his cap twice as the cheers continued.
He got another standing ovation when he came to the plate for the first time in the second inning, and there were chants of “Ya-di! Ya-di!” before he grounded a single back up the middle.
Fowler also heard all cheers all night long, and he used his legs to get St. Louis on the board in the third. He reached on an infield single, scampered over to third on Aledmys Diaz’s single to center and scored on Matt Carpenter’s fly ball to right.
MORE ON MOLINA
Molina made his 13th consecutive start on opening day, third most in franchise history behind Stan Musial (18) and Lou Brock (15), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Cubs: LHP Brian Duensing was placed on the 10-day disabled list with lower back spasms. The move was made retroactive to Thursday.
Following a day off, right-handers Jake Arrieta of the Cubs and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals get the ball on Tuesday night. Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts last year. Wainwright is looking to bounce back after going 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA last season.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.