ST. LOUIS (AP) -- After delivering a pair of knockout blows, the St. Louis Cardinals were on the receiving end.
Jake Fox hit a two-run homer in the 11th inning and the Chicago Cubs benefited from a wide slide by Matt Holliday in a 6-3 victory Sunday night, keeping the Cardinals' magic number at four for clinching the NL Central. St. Louis won the first two games with ninth-inning hits.
"All three games in the series were nip and tuck," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Finally, we pulled one out."
An interference call on Holliday in the ninth cost the Cardinals a chance for a three-game sweep and another dramatic finish.
With the bases loaded and one out, Ryan Ludwick hit a potential double-play grounder. Shortstop Ryan Theriot's relay was wide and Ludwick eluded the tag, letting the apparent winning run score and setting off fireworks over Busch Stadium.
But while several St. Louis players ran onto the field to celebrate, second base umpire Marty Foster said Holliday slid out of the basepath and ruled an inning-ending double play. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa came out to argue, and Foster showed him the dirt path where Holliday slid going after Theriot -- it was clearly too wide of the bag.
"I feel like you've got to break up a double play there, by any means necessary," Holliday said. "He said I wasn't close enough to the base."
Ludwick missed the bag avoiding a tag and was scuttling back when he looked up and saw that the inning was over. He blamed himself for not waiting on a better pitch.
"It's a position you want to be in, a position you grow up as a kid wanting to be in," Ludwick said. "When you don't get it done not only is it tough on you but I think it's even tougher and brings the whole team down."
Fox hit his 11th homer off Mitchell Boggs (2-3). Another run scored on Brad Thompson's wild pitch.
"He made a mistake, he left one up over the zone," Fox said. "I just reacted to it and got some good results. You don't approach it any differently, and you just have to remember in that situation there's as much pressure on him as there is on you."
The Cardinals completed a 3-6 homestand, missing a chance to wrap up their first trip to the postseason since winning the 2006 World Series. Adam Wainwright was foiled in a second shot at his 19th win.
The Cubs won hours after suspending right fielder Milton Bradley for the rest of the season. He was penalized for making disparaging remarks about the franchise and its fans.
Esmailin Caridad (1-0) pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings for his first major league win. Carlos Marmol finished for his 14th save in 18 chances.
The Cardinals made it 3-all in the eighth off Kevin Gregg on Holliday's leadoff walk, a wild pitch and Yadier Molina's two-out single. Gregg has allowed 18 earned runs in 20 1-3 innings the last two months.
Aramis Ramirez scored from second on shortstop Brendan Ryan's throwing error while trying to complete a double play to put the Cubs ahead 3-2 in the sixth.
Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano struck out six in six innings, allowing two runs on five hits. He's 4-0 with a 1.62 ERA in five starts on the Cardinals' home field.
Wainwright remained tied with CC Sabathia for the major league victory lead after allowing two earned in seven innings. He was a hard-luck loser as Florida beat St. Louis last Tuesday.
Wainwright hit double figures in strikeouts for the second time this season, fanning 10. After giving a run in the fifth and two more in the sixth, he struck out three of the last four batters.
Consecutive RBI doubles by Mark DeRosa and Albert Pujols in the fifth put the Cardinals ahead 2-1. In the top half, Andres Blanco hit an RBI double off the base of the center-field wall for the Cubs' first extra-base hit in 21 innings.
NOTES: Chris Carpenter took the NL ERA lead at 2.34 after the Giants' Tim Lincecum allowed five runs in four innings to land at 2.47. ... Pujols has 1,105 RBIs, tying Jim Bottomley for third on the franchise list. He's 43 behind Enos Slaughter for second. ... Pujols had three assists at 1B and needs eight to tie the Cubs' Mark Grace for the NL record of 180 in 1990. Bill Buckner holds the major league record of 184 in 1985. ... Zambrano has 1,310 strikeouts, passing Greg Maddux for fifth in Cubs' history.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)