Cubs overcome Cards, supplant Brewers atop NL Central

Cubs 2, Cardinals 1

CHICAGO (AP) -- Jacque Jones has heard it all. Boos, catcalls and on Friday the cheers from a powerful ovation at Wrigley Field.

Benched earlier this season and nearly traded, Jones made a great catch and hit a two-run homer to lead a 2-1 Cubs victory Friday that ended the St. Louis Cardinals' five-game winning streak and pushed Chicago into first in the NL Central.

The Cubs lead Milwaukee by a half-game after the Brewers lost 8-3 to Cincinnati. St. Louis is three games back in third.

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

In the fifth inning, Jones helped keep the game scoreless when he ran full-speed toward the center-field wall and made an over-the-shoulder grab on Brendan Ryan's long drive as he hit the ivy-covered bricks.

"I got a good jump on it, my only concern was hitting the wall, but I went full out and kind of felt the warning track a couple of steps and then the little grass behind the track and I knew I'd be close," he said.

Jones, who'd turned his ankle Thursday while getting four hits against the Reds, didn't get hurt.

"I kind rolled into it with my shoulder and my back. I was a little further away from the wall than I thought and then I turned around and my glove was in the ivy and I rolled into the ivy," Jones said.

Albert Pujols' 26th home run put the Cardinals ahead in the sixth. In the bottom half, Ryan Theriot singled and Jones hit his fifth homer, arguably his biggest of the season.

Jones connected off Braden Looper (10-10), pumping his fist as he rounded first and setting off a celebration from a crowd of 41,634 that included many Cardinals boosters.

"It's tough. It's tight. The Cardinals snuck their way back into it," Jones said. "It's always that way with these guys. These games you never know which team is home unless somebody does something good because it's half and half, half Cardinals, half Cubs."

Rich Hill (7-7) earned his first win since July 16, allowing a run and three hits over seven innings. He credited Jones' catch for helping him his long drought.

"It was an unbelievable catch," Hill said. "It was fun to watch. It's fun to watch him play."

St. Louis threatened against reliever Bob Howry in the eighth when David Eckstein singled and stole second and pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel walked. Pujols came up again, but he popped out to second baseman Mike Fontenot in shallow right to end the inning.

"I had a good opportunity to put my team on top or tie the game," Pujols said. "I got a good pitch to hit, but I just missed. I got under it. To us this game is almost like the postseason. We're both real close in the race. That's how I feel every time we play here."

Ryan Dempster worked the ninth for his 18th save in 20 chances.

Theriot's opposite-field single in the fourth was the only hit Looper allowed through the first five innings.

The Cardinals, who'd given up only 10 runs during their five-game winning streak, got another strong pitching performance from Looper. He gave up four hits in six innings.

"I felt I was in control of the game. I just made a bad pitch at the wrong time," Looper said.

Looper had already beaten the Cubs twice this season. In his previous 18 outings against them, mostly as a reliever, he permitted three runs in 32 innings.

The Cubs and Cardinals have spent most of the season chasing Milwaukee in the NL Central. Chicago has managed to stay close despite winning only six of its last 16 games.

"I've learned over the years that we can both be in last place, the Cubs and Cardinals, and the fans are 100 percent excited," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "The fact that we are both smelling first place, it adds significance. ... It's a great rivalry. There's no better rivalry than this one."

Some of the loudest noise Friday was produced by jets practicing for an air and water show over Lake Michigan this weekend. They buzzed by the ballpark with a deafening roar.

Game notes
Outfielder Juan Encarnacion returned to the Cardinals lineup after missing seven straight games with a sore left knee. ... La Russa argued with plate umpire Angel Hernandez after an interference call in the fourth. While Pujols broke from first, Scott Rolen struck out and his follow-through carried him across the plate. Rolen was ruled to have interfered with catcher Jason Kendall's high throw -- even though Pujols easily made it back to first, he was ruled out because of the interference. In the bottom of the inning, Derrek Lee of the Cubs struck out and his momentum carried him across the plate -- though not as far -- as Jones stole second, but no interference was called. That brought La Russa out for another lengthy discussion with Hernandez.