CHICAGO — The importance of the home run to history was obvious when even a bleacher creature at Wrigley Field didn’t dare follow tradition and toss that baseball back on the field.
The importance of the homer to the moment was clear on the scoreboard.
Albert Pujols led off the seventh inning with a solo homer and gave Cardinals lefty Jordan Montgomery the only run he’d need on his way to a complete-game shutout. Pujols’ 693rd career home run led the way for a first in Montgomery’s big-league career. The lefty had never pitched in the ninth inning of a game before completing a 1-0 one-hitter against the Cubs on Monday at Wrigley Field.
Montgomery faced one batter over the minimum, getting 27 outs from 28 Cubs.
In his first start in the Midwest’s oldest baseball rivalry, Montgomery continued his unbeaten run since coming to the Cardinals at the trade deadline. Montgomery has won all four starts he’s made for the Cardinals, and he’s yet to allow more than a run in any of them. The lefty’s career night at Wrigley included retiring the final 19 batters he faced.
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Nick Madrigal, the final batter of the game, skipped a grounder that allowed a fitting completion to Montgomery’s gem.
Pujols, who provided the only run, gloved the grounder and flipped to Montgomery, who beat Madrigal to first base for the final out.
It came on Montgomery’s 99th pitch.
He had no problem making the play.
The Cardinals took an unusual route to their eighth consecutive win. It wasn’t the burst of offense they got in Arizona. They generated little offense against the Cubs pitchers and did not get a runner safely to second base until Pujols passed it on his way home with the game’s first run.
A few hours after sharing the National League’s player of the week award with teammate Paul Goldschmidt, Pujols added to his streak of record-setting, record-breaking or just game-altering swings. Pujols’ homer Monday came on a pitch at shoulder level, and he socked it into the left-field bleachers. It was his sixth in his past seven games, and each one has stoked the notion that he could reach and surpass 700 for his career. He is within three of tying Alex Rodriguez’s 696 for the fourth-most all time, and with seven more, he’ll become the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to reach 700.
The homer was Pujols’ 30th at Wrigley Field in his 98th game there.
It was not the first Pujols home run ball the bleachers didn’t catch and release.
He has hit some onto the streets around the ballpark, after all.
With each swing, more records for Pujols
Pujols’ solo homer in the seventh inning came off a pitcher he’d never hit one against before and that tied him for a major-league record with Barry Bonds.
Cubs lefty Drew Smyly was the 449th different pitcher that Pujols hit a home run against. That matches the number of pitchers who saw Bonds circle the bases against them on his way to the major-league record for career homers, at 762. As September arrives in the NL Central and pitching staffs restock with new, young pitchers, Pujols will have many chances to find a 450th pitcher to greet with a homer and overtake Bonds.
On the Cubs’ side of the ballpark during batting practice Monday was the pitcher who has allowed the most home runs to Pujols — former Cubs starter Ryan Dempster.
Pujols hit eight homers off Dempster.
The home run also gave Pujols two hits in the game off Smyly and vaulted the Cardinals great into the top 10 for career multi-hit games. Pujols’ 940th game with at least two hits broke a tie with Hall of Famer Paul Waner.
Montgomery makes his Cubs-Cards debut
A relative veteran of Major League Baseball’s other, better-publicized rivalry, Montgomery made his Wrigley Field debut Monday as member of the Cubs’ archrival.
The lefty, a Yankee for his entire career until the recent trade deadline, knows about facing rivals in historic neighborhood ballparks. He had seven starts at Fenway Park, and in those games, he went 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA. Montgomery had one career start — a win — at Wrigley while with the Yankees, but Monday’s game was his first in the crucible of the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, baseball’s oldest between two teams that have never moved from their original cities.
“I think we’re just going to play baseball,” Montgomery said when asked. “Hopefully we can keep playing good baseball.”
The left-hander pitched into the eighth inning to set a new career high for longest start, and he overwhelmed the Cubs. Montgomery retired the first eight batters he faced, striking out four of them. When tagged with a double that put a runner at third base because of an error later in the play, Montgomery was unbothered. He got a ground out, and that was that. He had three scoreless innings and wouldn’t be bothered by another base runner as he entered the eighth inning.
Golden defense does it again
As Montgomery strung scoreless innings together, he got help as Cardinals starters so often do from the fielders behind him.
In the fifth inning, a chopper back toward the middle of the infield was intercepted by Nolan Arenado. He gripped the ball with his bare hand and threw to Pujols at first base to beat Nelson Velazquez for the out to end the inning. In the eighth inning, second baseman Tommy Edman ranged to his right and gloved the ball in the outfield grass. Edman turned and was able to throw out designated hitter Franmil Reyes for the inning’s first out.
Montgomery took care of the last one by snagging a sharp hopper hit back at him. He tossed to Pujols to move onto the ninth.
Photos: Pujols, Montgomery lift Cards past rival Cubs