ST. LOUIS — Whatever chance the Cardinals had to take advantage of the Colorado Rockies storming away against Milwaukee on their behalf, crumbled and then cratered in disastrous seventh inning Friday night.

A laborious, lengthy, 4-hour, 4-minute game curdled on the Cardinals when the bullpen got involved with nine outs to get.

A 1-1 game splintered apart on Andrew Miller and Ryan Helsley, neither of who could retire more than two of the batters they were assigned. The meandering Cubs, losers of seven consecutive coming into the final weekend series at Busch Stadium, scored seven runs and pulled away for an 8-2 victory. Robel Garcia came off the bench to pinch hit in the sixth inning and hit a three-run homer at the climax of that decisive seventh.

The earliest the Cardinals (90-70) could clinch the National League Central division title at the beginning of this series was Saturday.

That has not changed.

The Brewers’ loss in Denver drops the Cardinals’ magic number down to two. Any combination of Milwaukee losses or Cardinals wins that equal two and the Cardinals win the division. A Brewers loss Saturday coupled with a Cardinals win earlier in the evening and the locals are celebrating Saturday night.

They have a one-game lead with two games to play.

Dakota Hudson pitched five scoreless innings and had a career-best 10 strikeouts. But his combination of 10 Ks and five walks — once loading the bases with three walks (see below) — skyrocketed his pitch count to 97 pitches. That brought the bullpen into play just in time for the Cubs to great Giovanny Gallegos with a solo homer by Ian Happ in the top of the sixth.

The Cardinals answered with Matt Carpenter’s 14th homer of the season.

Carpenter and Tommy Edman reached base four teams apiece. They would each score two runs as the offense all around them fizzled.

Still.

In the bottom of the seventh, the scoreboard battered by the Cubs’ rally but promising hope from Colorado, the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs. Yadier Molina had already driven home Edman for the Cardinals’ second run of the game. Paul DeJong came up with the bases loaded and a chance to chomp into the Cubs’ lead. He flew out to center field.

The Cardinals’ regulars have managed a total of four runs in their past 27 innings played as a group. Three of those runs have come on homers.

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