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Cubs drop Cards six games back
St. Louis suffered its eighth straight loss.
ST. LOUIS -- Carlos Zambrano came up big. The St. Louis Cardinals didn't.
Zambrano allowed four hits in eight innings, Cliff Floyd hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh and the Chicago Cubs beat St. Louis 5-3 on Friday night to send the Cardinals to their eighth straight loss.
"I was feeling good," Zambrano said. "I don't think I could pitch any better than this."
Chicago, which survived a wild ninth that ended with the bases loaded, won for the fifth time in seven games and opened a 1 1/2-game lead over second-place Milwaukee in the NL Central, the Cubs' largest margin since Sept. 4.
St. Louis has lost eight straight for the first time since July 27 to Aug. 4 last year. The defending World Series champions, just one game out of first before play last Saturday, are six behind the Cubs, their largest division deficit since Aug. 11.
Their sliver of hope is the last three games of the Cubs series and three against the second-place Brewers.
"We definitely have a major uphill battle, no doubt about it," losing pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "But we play the important teams, and that gives us a chance."
Zambrano (16-12) won his second straight start after losing five in a row. He improved to 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA against the Cardinals this season and tied his career best for wins, set in 2004 and matched last year.
Teammate Daryle Ward, who hit a three-run pinch-hit double in the ninth, believes Zambrano finally settled down after signing a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension Aug. 17.
"We knew he was going to come back, it was just a matter of time," Ward said. "I'm pretty sure he had the little contract situation on his mind, and now you've got that out of the way and he's got a clear head again."
Mark DeRosa's RBI single in the fourth put the Cubs ahead against Wainwright (13-11), but Albert Pujols ended a 20-game, 75-at-bat homerless drought when he connected in the sixth.
Floyd homered into the Cardinals' bullpen beyond the right-field wall leading off the seventh. While he has just eight home runs this season, he's connected in three straight games.
Ward's three-run double in the ninth off Jason Isringhausen put the Cubs ahead 5-1. The hit came off a sinker.
Jim Edmonds hit a solo homer with one out in the ninth off Ryan Dempster, and Ryan Ludwick homered with two outs.
Yadier Molina singled, Bob Howry relieved, and Russell Branyan and So Taguchi singled to load the bases. Aaron Miles then grounded out to shortstop, giving Howry his eighth save in 12 chances.
Wainwright (13-11) allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings, dropping to 0-3 against the Cubs.
"I have people tell me I threw the ball great, but the fact is in a tie game you can't give up a home run in the seventh inning like that to a dangerous hitter," Wainwright said. "That was a bad job of pitching by my part."
Chicago is 9-4 against the Cardinals this year, including 5-1 at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals' Scott Spiezio was activated from the restricted list earlier in the day and manager Tony La Russa put him right in the lineup at third base after shortstop David Eckstein was scratched with back soreness, with Brendan Ryan moving from third to shortstop.