Cubs send disintegrating Cardinals to ninth straight loss

Hunt for October: The Cubs, who won for the fourth straight game, began the day 1½ games in front of Milwaukee, who is in a three-game series with Cincinnati.

Unsung hero: Kerry Wood struck out one in a perfect seventh to earn his first win since May 29, 2006.

Figure this: It's the Cardinals' longest losing streak since a 10-game skid in 1980.

Quotable: "That's the best swing I've made in maybe like a week." -- Soriano

-- ESPN.com news services

Cubs 3, Cardinals 2

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Ryan Dempster got the ball again, only a few hours after his struggles made the Chicago Cubs scramble for a victory.

This time the closer shut down the St. Louis Cardinals with a perfect ninth inning in a 3-2 victory in the first game of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday. Alfonso Soriano's two-run homer in the eighth drove in the go-ahead run in the Cubs' fourth straight win, and the Cardinals' ninth straight loss.

"I had a little talk with him last night before he left the park and I said, 'Look, I have all the confidence in the world in you," manager Lou Piniella said. "Today wasn't a good day but tomorrow in a similar situation you're right back in there."

Kerry Wood (1-1) struck out one in a perfect seventh in relief of Ted Lilly, who worked six innings and gave up two runs and four hits. It was Wood's first victory since May 29, 2006.

"I'm so happy for him," Piniella said. "If this were a football game, we'd give him the game ball."

The third-place Cardinals dropped seven games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central, all but eliminating the defending World Series champions from the division race. Before the losing streak began, they were one game out of first place.

"You just can't carry it forward, otherwise it makes it hard to win the next one," manager Tony La Russa said. "There's stuff you can control through your ears.

"Every game but one of the games during the streak has been competitive, so we've done a good job of turning the page."

The Cubs began the day 1½ games in front of Milwaukee in the division.

Braden Looper threw seven dominant innings and Jim Edmonds hit a two-run double for the Cardinals, mired in their longest losing streak since a 10-game skid in 1980.

The Cubs are 10-4 against the Cardinals, including 6-1 at Busch Stadium. The game was a makeup of a postponement the day after the death of Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock on April 29, and drew a season-best sellout crowd of 45,918, including a vociferous Cubs contingent.

Pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd drew a leadoff walk and Sam Fuld pinch-ran before Soriano hit his 26th homer into the left-field stands on a 3-2 pitch from Ryan Franklin. Soriano has two homers in the last three games, and eight in the last 18 games since returning from the 15-day disabled list for a strained right quad.

"It was a very good pitch and I think I made a very good swing," Soriano said. "That's the best swing I've made in maybe like a week."

Franklin (4-4) has lost four straight decisions after a 4-0 start, and has given up a two-run homer and taken the loss in two of his last three outings.

"There's no trying to figure out anything," Franklin said. "It's just a mistake and he's a good enough hitter, and he just hit it."

Dempster allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning while pitching with a four-run ninth-inning lead on Friday, but was buoyed by the conversation with Piniella. The save was his 27th in 30 chances.

"He just told me 'You're in there tomorrow," Dempster said. "I expected that but it's nice to hear.

"You realize if you don't get it done, the next day you just come out and give your best effort."

Looper, a major league-leading 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA in day games, allowed three hits and a run with five strikeouts and two walks. He's 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA against the Cubs, three of four starts against Chicago coming in day games.

Looper retired 18 of his last 19 hitters after Geovany Soto's double in the first, a stretch interrupted only by Soriano's two-out single in the fifth.

Edmonds, who entered the game batting .195 off left-handers, hit a two-run double off the right-field wall in the first to put the Cardinals ahead. Lilly retired the first two batters before Albert Pujols singled and Ryan Ludwick walked ahead of Edmonds.

The Cubs cut the gap to a run in the second when Mark DeRosa drew a leadoff walk, went to third on Soto's double and scored on Mike Fontenot's sacrifice fly.

Soriano dropped a fly ball from Edmonds in the sixth inning for a two-base error, but the Cardinals didn't score.

Game notes
Cardinals SS David Eckstein (sore back) missed his second straight start and La Russa said he wouldn't be in the lineup for the second game, either. ... Franklin has four of St. Louis' nine bullpen losses. ... The Cubs are 62-49 against right-handed starter and 15-22 against left-handers.