Wood shuts door as Cubs grind out close win over Cards

ST. LOUIS -- Kerry Wood finished strong after another shaky start, retiring Albert Pujols for the final out of his first scoreless inning this month.

The Chicago Cubs' closer has allowed seven runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings in September with two losses and a blown save. On Thursday night, he escaped, working around two hits in the ninth in a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was fun when it was over," Wood said. "That's something. It was a tough spot. You never want to put yourself in a situation like that, facing the best hitter in the game, but it came out on the right end."

Rich Harden worked six solid innings and Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot had RBIs for the Cubs, who lead Milwaukee in the NL Central by 5 1/2 games with 16 to play after taking two of three from the Cardinals.

The Cubs flew home after the game for a few days to await a decision on the schedule for a three-game series that was to have begun on Friday in Houston. The first two games have been postponed in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Ike.

The Cardinals remained 4 1/2 games behind the Brewers for the NL wild card and are 1-10 in one-run games since July 22, the lone victory coming in the series opener Tuesday.

"Those are the games that didn't turn around, and that's the reason we're in as difficult a spot as we're in," manager Tony La Russa said. "Those are all winnable games."

Pujols drove in his 100th run with a sixth-inning double, becoming only the third player in major league history to reach the milestone in his first eight seasons. Al Simmons did it his first 11 seasons, and Ted Williams also did it his first eight.

He extended his major league-record streak of reaching 30 homers and 100 RBIs in his first eight seasons, two more than any player in history. He has nine RBIs in his last five games and is hitting .360, two points behind Atlanta's Chipper Jones for the NL batting title.

Manager Lou Piniella had a short meeting with Wood right before he faced Pujols, finishing with a wave of his arms as he returned to the dugout.

"I was saying 'Go do it!" Piniella said. "We held on. Pujols vs. Kerry Wood, it doesn't get any better than that."

La Russa faulted home plate umpire Mike Reilly for calling a high strike on a 2-0 pitch to Pujols, when it appeared Wood was pitching around the Cardinals' star to set up a bases-loaded confrontation against cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick. But Pujols had no excuses.

"I wanted to hit in that situation, so I don't blame the umpire," Pujols said. "I got a good pitch to hit and I couldn't come through. You can't come through every time."

Harden (5-1) allowed two runs and five hits in his first appearance since working five innings Aug. 29 against Philadelphia and then skipping a turn due to arm discomfort. His three strikeouts were one above his season low. He's won five straight decisions over eight starts since his lone NL loss on July 21 at Arizona, when he allowed one run and one hit in seven innings of a 2-0 loss.

Carlos Marmol escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth with the help of two defensive gems: left fielder Alfonso Soriano's diving grab on a sinking liner by Pujols and right fielder Kosuke Fukudome's leaping grab at the wall to rob Felipe Lopez of extra bases. Pinch-hitter Josh Phelps struck out for the final out and is 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a walk against Marmol.

The Cubs capitalized on three walks, a wild pitch and a fielding error to go ahead 2-0 in the fifth, with both runs unearned against Todd Wellemeyer (12-7). Theriot walked with the bases loaded for the first run in the inning, one of four walks by Wellemeyer in a five-inning stint.

Pujols botched Reed Johnson's routine grounder with a man on first, dropping the ball while pivoting to make a forceout throw at second. Lopez, the third baseman, appeared to get the ball stuck in his glove on Lee's bases-loaded RBI grounder, settling for a throw to first instead of a shot at a force at the plate.

"That happens, though, that's baseball," Wellemeyer said. "It's frustrating but it's part of the game and you've got to work through it."

Lopez, filling in while Troy Glaus waits for results from a second cortisone shot to his sore right shoulder, had errors on consecutive plays in a 4-3 loss on Wednesday.

Consecutive doubles by Mark DeRosa and Fontenot began the sixth off Kyle McClellan for a 3-0 lead, ending 9 2/3 scoreless innings from the Cardinals' bullpen. McClellan, a rookie appearing in his 65th game, recovered to strike out four of the last six hitters in a two-inning stint.

Harden limited the Cardinals to three singles before the sixth, when Pujols' RBI double and a run-scoring single by Lopez cut the deficit to a run.

Game notes
The Cardinals and Triple-A Memphis agreed to a four-year extension of their player development contract through 2012. ... Lopez was not impressed with Cubs lefty Ted Lilly, who worked eight innings Wednesday. "I don't know about anybody else, but to me he's not that good," Lopez said. "I'm not going to give him that much credit." ... The Cardinals have juggled their rotation to make up for Kyle Lohse's 5-game suspension, giving RHP Brad Thompson a start on Friday at Pittsburgh and starting RHP Joel Pineiro on Sunday. Lohse could start as soon as Tuesday at Cincinnati. ... The Cubs have won 16 of their last 20 on the road.