CHICAGO — Rick Ankiel showed off the arm that once made him a promising pitcher. His perfect throw from left field in the first inning cut down a runner and got the St. Louis Cardinals headed toward victory Monday.
Several innings later, Ankiel demonstrated the power that’s helped him make a remarkable transition with his fourth home run.
Both helped the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 6-4 and move within three games of first in the NL Central.
“Today was a good day,” Ankiel said. “Every day is a learning experience.”
Chicago leadoff hitter Ryan Theriot drove a pitch to left in the first that a leaping Ankiel couldn’t catch. But when the ball bounded off Wrigley Field’s hard ivy-covered wall, Ankiel hustled to pick it up and then made a one-hop throw to Scott Rolen at third to cut down the speedy Theriot.
“An aggressive play by Theriot,” Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. “I’ll tell you what, Ankiel is an athlete. I didn’t think he had a chance at him. You can tell he was a pitcher.”
Ankiel was startled at first to see Theriot try to stretch the hit to a triple .
“I know when I got to it he was rounding the bag, so it surprised me a little bit,” Ankiel said.
“It was a great play and unbelievable throw. I just saw something that maybe I hadn’t seen before,” Rolen said.
“It was a perfect throw. It hit the dirt and softened up for me when it got there. But it was right on the base. When the ball came out, I was saying ‘that was special.’”
Ankiel’s pitching career was sidetracked by wildness and injury. He made a permanent switch to the outfield in 2005, missed all of last season with a knee injury and has worked his way back through the minors in his new position. He’s been hitting balls over the fence at a steady pace and had 32 homers this year in Triple-A when called up.
“We knew he could hit when he pitched,” said Chicago’s Daryle Ward, who had one of three Cubs homers and finished with three hits. “You got to give it to him.”
The game was delayed 1 hour, 27 minutes by rain in the bottom of the seventh. The Cardinals salvaged one win in what was supposed to be a four-game series before Sunday night’s game was postponed. Chicago won on Friday and Saturday.
The Cubs began play Monday one game ahead of Milwaukee in the division. The Brewers faced the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Albert Pujols hit his 28th homer in the fifth, and Rolen had a two-run double in the first and a run-scoring double in the third for the Cardinals.
Joel Pineiro (3-1), who spent most of his season in the Red Sox bullpen before being acquired at the trade deadline, went five innings to win his third straight start. He allowed three runs and seven hits, including back-to-back homers to Ward and Mark DeRosa in the second inning. Derrek Lee homered off Troy Percival in the sixth.
The Cubs had runners on first and second against closer Jason Isringhausen in the eighth after a walk and Ward’s single, but DeRosa hit into a double play. Isringhausen also worked a perfect ninth for his 23rd save in 25 chances.
Cubs starter Ted Lilly (13-6), who was 8-1 in his previous 10 starts, gave up seven hits and five runs over six innings.
The Cardinals broke a 2-2 tie in the third. Pujols walked, Juan Encarnacion doubled and then Rolen hit a two-hopper toward third. Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez lost his footing as the ball bounded by him for an RBI double. Jim Edmonds followed with a run-scoring grounder and St. Louis had a two-run lead.
“I tried to get the long hop. ... The ball went by me,” Ramirez said.
The Cubs then bunched singles from Theriot, Lee and Ramirez to make it 4-3 in the bottom half. Pujols’ long homer to left made it 5-3 in the fifth.
Lee hit Percival’s first pitch for his 14th homer, cutting it to 5-4 in the sixth. One out later, Ward greeted Randy Flores with a double, but Ryan Franklin ended the inning with runners at first and third by getting Jason Kendall to fly out.
Ankiel’s homer made it a two-run game in the seventh before the rains hit.
“You don’t just roll out on the field and go from a pitcher to a hitter,” Franklin said.
“He was really determined to get where he wants to be. I think everybody in the league tips their hat to him on how hard he’s worked and all the trials and tribulations that he’s been through.”
Rolen’s two-out, two-run double in the first gave the Cards an early lead.
Notes: St. Louis’ Tony La Russa managed his 4,408th game, tying him with Bucky Harris for third place on the career games managed list. ... Hitless in his previous 10 at-bats entering the game, Rolen finished 3-for-4. ... It was Ankiel’s first outfield assist.