ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs finally scored a few runs for Jeff Samardzija, won an extra-inning game, and delivered in the clutch on Friday night. The only question is who's the closer, although manager Rick Renteria said it isn't a matter worth debating.
Welington Castillo smacked a three-run homer with two outs in the 11th inning to lift the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Cardinals, who had rallied with two runs in the ninth off Jose Veras in front of 43,903 at Busch Stadium.
Veras, who was booed at Wrigley Field in his first appearance April 6 when he gave up two runs, is now 0-2 in save situations. Last year, the Cubs began the season with Carlos Marmol as the closer, then switched after one week to Kyuji Fujikawa. An elbow injury sidelined the Japanese pitcher, who needed Tommy John surgery. The Cubs eventually signed Kevin Gregg.
"It was a shaky outing but he's still our guy," Renteria said of Veras. "His stuff is there. I think he gets a little excited and he starts pulling some pitches and he overthrows pitches and he just has to find his rhythm.
"I don't know how many times he's actually closed for us now -- maybe a couple times this season in 10 games," Renteria said. "It's too early to decide anything like that."
The Cubs had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth when Yadier Molina singled to lead off against Veras, who then hit Allen Craig with a pitch, which Renteria challenged, only to have the call upheld. Molina and Craig moved up on a sacrifice, and Molina scored on a passed ball charged to Castillo.
Veras then hit Peter Bourjos and walked Daniel Descalso to load the bases for Matt Carpenter, who hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
"What happened to him has happened to anybody," Castillo said of Veras. "I just talked to him and said, 'Keep your head up and just go hard the next day you have the opportunity.' He's working really hard, but sometimes stuff like that, he just doesn't know what to do with that kind of stuff. I talked to him, and said, 'Get your head up, get the ball tomorrow and get a save.'"
Nate Schierholtz doubled to lead off the Chicago 11th against Trevor Rosenthal and moved up on Ryan Sweeney's sacrifice. Starlin Castro was intentionally walked, and the Cubs had a play on when Ryan Kalish popped up to Molina on a bunt attempt.
"We just didn't execute," Renteria said of Kalish's at-bat.
Castillo came through, launching a 1-1 pitch into the left-center seats for his second home run of the season.
"Welington got a good fastball, got a pitch up to hit and did a nice job with it," Renteria said. "I don't think he was thinking too much in terms of innings. I think he just wanted to get in there and do his job and he got a good pitch to handle, and he drove it out of the ballpark."
"I was looking fastball," Castillo said. "I know he throws really hard, so I just waited for something over the plate that I could drive and I put my best swing on it."
It may have been the 11th inning, but Castillo wasn't tired, and he told himself not to give up.
"I was talking to myself, 'Just don't give up, don't give up, just go hard, go 100 percent, even if you're body feels tired,'" he said.
The Cubs finally scored some runs for Samardzija, but couldn't give him the win. In 14 innings in Samardzija's first two starts this season, the Cubs had failed to score, and they were held scoreless through six on Friday. The streak could be extended even further as the right-hander lost, 4-0, in his last start of the season, Sept. 29, against the Cardinals. He went six innings in that game.
"When we took him out, he said, 'Hey, pinch-hit for me and get me the runs,' and we did," Renteria said of Samardzija.
"You keep pitching and keep giving your team a chance to come out and give you runs -- I learned my lesson when I was in the bullpen," Samardzija said. "You go out and have quick innings and come back in, and a lot of times, you get some runs."
After striking out Bourjos to end the seventh, Samardzija seemed to moonwalk off the mound. He was just caught up in the moment.
"That's a great team we're playing against," Samardzija said of the Cardinals. "When you do have success against a team like that, which is coming off World Series wins and getting to the World Series and the history they have and the lineup they have, it feels good, and there's really no other way to put it.
"I like to compete, and if I'm going to compete, I like to compete against the best, and that's the Cardinals," he said. "Over the past five years, you can't say there's a better team in the league. I was happy to do my job."
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the second on Molina's RBI single, and the Cubs tied the game in the seventh on Sweeney's RBI single off starter Joe Kelly.
Pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano singled to open the Chicago eighth, moved up on Emilio Bonifacio's sacrifice, and reached third on pinch-hitter Mike Olt's single. Lefty Kevin Siegrist threw six straight fastballs to Anthony Rizzo, who then choked up on the bat and flared a curve to right to score Ruggiano. Olt scored on Schierholtz's single to left.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had Rosenthal bat for himself in the 10th with two on and two outs even though he had Pete Kozma on the bench.
"Trevor had a very efficient inning, throwing six pitches the previous inning," Matheny said. "He's arguably our best guy in the 'pen. We had an opportunity to get him back out there and start off the next inning with Bourjos, Descalso and then the top of the order, we like throwing our best guy out there and thinking it's going to get us a zero to get us a chance to get back in."
The Cubs know all about missed opportunities. They played two extra-inning games against the Pirates in their opening series and lost both. They could've folded against the Cardinals.
"We needed this one real bad," Castillo said.
"We know we're going to play a lot of close games and we're ready for that," Samardzija said. "The more close games you win, the more confidence you build, and then you see yourself winning by four, five, six runs. You have to start somewhere. If we have to start this off by scraping off some one-run victories, then so be it.
"Anything you can do to get confidence going and just the team going in the right direction, that's what it takes, and sometimes it takes a game like this ... to prove we belong here and we'll be here for awhile."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.