ST. LOUIS (AP) — Yadier Molina returned from a 40-game absence and guided Shelby Miller through seven innings. There was no helping fellow All-Star Pat Neshek.
"We've all been there. You're kind of down in the dumps, but it's part of the game," Neshek said after a rare rough outing in the St. Louis Cardinals' 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday night. "It's how you rebound. It's a long season."
Jorge Soler homered for the second straight at-bat and fellow rookie Javier Baez had a tiebreaking, two-run double in the eighth inning off Neshek.
Neshek (6-1) led NL relievers with an 0.81 ERA entering the game and exited with a 1.45 ERA after giving up four runs, matching his career worst, while getting only two outs. It was 2-all when he came in to begin the eighth, and he gave up hits to the first three batters.
"Soler got me really good," Neshek said. "It was interesting because he's never seen me before and he was hacking like that. Yeah, I missed that pitch really bad."
Neshek had allowed five earned runs this season, and no more than one in a game, prior to Friday night.
Molina had been out since July 9 because of a torn ligament in his right thumb, and went 0 for 3 and was hit by a pitch.
The crowd at Busch Stadium gave Molina a standing ovation when he walked in from the bullpen after pregame warmups, and another cheer before he batted in the first inning.
"I love watching him behind the plate, the little things he does all the time," manager Mike Matheny said. "He changed the course with Shelby right in mid-stream and helped him get back on track and really helped maximized his stuff."
Miller allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings.
"The toughest thing about it was giving up a homer in the seventh," Miller said. "I thought it gave them a little momentum."
Neil Ramirez (2-1) allowed two hits in a scoreless seventh.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks worked six solid innings in his bid to become the franchise's first rookie to win five games in August.
Soler hit his second homer of the season on Miller's first pitch of the seventh to tie it at 2. In his next at-bat, Soler hit a two-run shot in the eighth.
Soler finished 3 for 3.
Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara also homered for the Cubs, with all four Cubs drives estimated at 400-feet plus. They entered with 30 homers this month, tied for most in the NL.
Cubs reliever Justin Grimm struck out four in the ninth. One of the batters reached on Grimm's wild pitch.
Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta had RBI singles in the St. Louis first. After Peralta's hit, Hendricks retired 11 in a row.
Cubs: LHP Felix Doubront (straight right calf) will be activated off the DL Saturday and make his Cubs debut as the Game 1 starter of a day-night doubleheader. He's been out since Aug. 1.
Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (shoulder) is set to make a rehab start Sunday and could rejoin the rotation after that. Wacha was the NL championship series MVP last fall as a rookie but has been sidelined since mid-June.
Cubs: Rookie Tsuyoshi Wada (4-1, 2.56), who took a no-hitter into the seventh of his last start, works the second game of the doubleheader. Doubront was 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA in Boston.
Cardinals: Justin Masterson is (2-2, 7.43) may be pitching to save his spot in the rotation in Game 1. Rookie Marco Gonzales (0-2, 7.07) will be recalled from Triple-A Memphis to start in Game 2.