Jones' long ball lifts Cubs past Cards

Jones' long ball lifts Cubs past Cards

CHICAGO -- Jacque Jones had a first half he'd like to forget. He's trying to give the Cubs a second half to remember.

Jones hit a two-run homer and made a stellar catch to back Rich Hill and lift the Cubs to a 2-1 victory Friday over the St. Louis Cardinals, putting pressure on the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central Division race.

The Cubs moved into first place by a half-game over the Brewers, who lost to the Reds later Friday, while the Cardinals fell three games back.

"The Cardinals are coming in like a freight train, and it's up to us to cool them off," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "They've been playing good baseball, they've gotten back into this race. It's a credit to them."

The loss snapped the Cardinals' winning streak at five games. This series marks the first time the Cubs and Cardinals have met after Aug. 1 when both teams were within three games of the division lead since Sept. 4, 2003.

"We know where we are and the position we're in," Hill said. "The only thing we're concentrating on doing is what we can do, and that's win one game at a time. That's the approach we've been taking."

Hill (7-7) gave up one run on three hits -- including Albert Pujols' 26th homer -- while striking out seven over seven innings. The seven wins is a personal high for the lefty, who won six in his rookie season last year.

There were plenty of distractions besides a pennant race. This weekend is the Air & Water Show along the Lake Michigan beachfront, and the air participants were practicing on Friday. Hill had to step off the mound after his first pitch to Pujols in the fourth after one of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds buzzed the ballpark.

"I wasn't expecting it," Hill said. "I thought the flyovers were before the game."

Piniella could've lifted Hill for a pinch-hitter in the sixth when the Cardinals led, 1-0, but stuck with the lefty. Hill was coming off a loss to Colorado in which he gave up seven runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. The Cubs haven't helped him much, scoring 34 runs in his last 21 starts while he's been in the game.

"I was very appreciative, especially after the last game," Hill said about getting a chance to stay in the game and get the win. "That's how you approach things. It's not what happened in the past, it's what's happening right now. Things that have gone bad in the past, or the last game, you can't focus on that. It's how you feel today, the flow of the game, how it's going. You just keep it simple that way."

That's been Jones' attitude in the second half. He added to his defensive highlight in the fifth when he caught Brendan Ryan's fly ball two steps from the ivy-covered brick wall in center. The Wrigley Field crowd of 41,634 gave him a standing ovation as he came off the field.

"I got a good jump on it, and my only concern was hitting the wall," Jones said. "I felt the warning track and the grass behind the warning track, and I knew I was getting close."

Pujols gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with his homer with two outs in the sixth. Cardinals starter Braden Looper (10-10) held the Cubs to one hit over the first five innings but they made contact in the sixth when Ryan Theriot singled with one out and Jones followed with his fifth homer to go ahead 2-1.

"You've got to tip your hat to Jacque," Looper said. "It was basically the only pitch I gave him to hit all day, and he made me pay for making a mistake there."

After a dismal .233 first half, Jones is batting .426 with 17 RBIs in 15 games in August. He totaled 20 RBIs in 69 games before the All-Star break.

"I figured as bad as I was the first half, I didn't have anything to lose," Jones said. "Just go out and play and enjoy the game and relax and see what happens."

Pujols made it interesting in the eighth. With two outs, David Eckstein singled against Cubs reliever Bob Howry, who then walked pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel. Pujols flew out to second baseman Mike Fontenot in shallow right to end the threat. Ryan Dempster pitched the ninth for his 18th save, and only the second opportunity in the last 23 games, dating back to July 25.

"I've thrown him balls six inches off the plate outside and he's gotten a hit off me," Howry said of Pujols. "You try to make your pitch and hope he gets himself out."

Dempster was just happy he didn't have to face the Cardinals slugger in the ninth.

"I was just trying to look out for [Dempster]," Howry said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.