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Grand finale: Bennett's walk-off slam cuts off Cubs' rally

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- For most of his career, Gary Bennett has been a
low-profile backup catcher. Not this weekend.

Bennett won a game for St. Louis with two outs in the ninth for
the second straight day, hitting a grand slam Sunday night to give
the Cardinals a 10-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

"It's 4 years old on Christmas morning, that's the feeling,"
Bennett said. "You're rounding third and you see everybody jumping
up and down.

"Other than the World Series. ... I guess that would feel
better."

Bennett hit the game-winning single in a 2-1 victory Saturday
and topped that with his first career grand slam off Bob Howry
(3-5). It's his second career game-winning homer and the Cardinals'
first game-winning slam since David Eckstein beat the Braves on
Aug. 7, 2005.

"I've been in a lot of pennant races and you always have some
unlikely heroes," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Gary Bennett
was the hero of this series.

"He's about as hot as I've ever seen him. Dang!"

It was the fourth homer of the year for Bennett. All have come
since Aug. 18.

"What a weekend he's had," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa
said. "We did a lot of little things really well, and some big
things."

The Cardinals rebounded after getting swept by the Mets in a
three-game series at New York and pulled from a virtual tie in the
NL Central entering the weekend to a three-game lead over
Cincinnati.

St. Louis beat up on 29-year-old rookie Les Walrond, a Cardinals
13th-round draft pick in 1998 who didn't make it out of the third
in his first career start, although Jeff Weaver failed to hold a
6-3 lead.

Jacque Jones homered for the Cubs but also committed a
three-base fielding error that allowed Scott Rolen to circle the
bases on an RBI single in the first. The Cubs, who swept the
Cardinals in two earlier series, finished 11-8 against St. Louis
but have lost seven of eight overall.

Albert Pujols singled to start the ninth and he was running on
the pitch on Rolen's groundout up the middle, sliding in safely to
avoid a double play. Juan Encarnacion beat out an infield hit for
his fourth single as Pujols advanced on shortstop Ronny Cedeno's
throw, and Ronnie Belliard walked to load the bases.

Aaron Miles grounded into a force play at home with the Cubs'
defense playing in before Bennett, getting regular duty with
starting catcher Yadier Molina sidelined by a strained right elbow,
hit a 1-0 pitch over the left-field wall. Bennett was 7-for-10 in
the series.

"I threw a pitch down the middle of the plate to their hottest
hitter," Howry said. "And he hit it out."

Braden Looper (7-1) worked a scoreless ninth for St. Louis.

Weaver allowed five runs on seven hits in 6 1-3 innings. In his
last start, he coughed up all but two runs of a six-run cushion and
got no decision in a loss at New York. He did help himself against
the Cubs with a two-run single during St. Louis' four-run third.

The Cubs tied it in the seventh on Aramis Ramirez's run-scoring
groundout off Adam Wainwright and Jones' infield hit off Tyler
Johnson.

Several big plays by the Cardinals' defense made it tough for
the Cubs to catch up, including Pujols' running basket catch of
Matt Murton's pop fly to shallow right and Rolen's lunging grab of
Ramirez' drive down the third-base line with two on and two outs,
both plays coming in the second. Encarnacion added two diving
catches, both times denying Cedeno a hit, in the fourth and eighth.

Walrond, recalled from Triple-A Iowa to replace the injured Ryan
O'Malley in the rotation, lasted 2 2-3 innings and gave up six
runs, five earned, on seven hits. He's the 18th rookie starter used
by the Cubs this month, the most by the franchise since 1902.

Walrond said with a little luck, he wouldn't have placed such a
burden on the bullpen.

"I hated to see those guys come in early," Walrond said.
"That's the main thing I'm disappointed about."

Game notes
Pujols had been an 0-for-16 slump at home, the longest
drought of his career according to the Elias Sports Bureau, before
reaching on an infield hit in the third. ... Jones has committed a
career-high six errors, one more than his previous worst in four
seasons. ... In two starts against the Cubs, Weaver has allowed
nine runs on 17 hits in 12 innings with no decisions. ... The Cubs
have used 14 starters, one shy of the franchise high set in several
seasons.