With Chicago closer Kerry Wood out on the mound to begin the inning, La Russa figured his club was in trouble.
"I didn't like our chances," La Russa said. "(Wood) has so many weapons. This guy is really good."
So was La Russa's bunch on this day.
Outfielder Rick Ankiel slapped a two-run, two-out single to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap a three-run rally and lead the Cardinals to a 5-4 win over the Cubs.
The win brought the Cardinals (50-39) to within 2½ games of the first-place Cubs (52-36) in the National League Central.
Ankiel, who had had three hits and three RBI, also added a solo homer in the sixth inning. In the ninth, he picked on an 0-1 slider to give St. Louis its fifth win in the last eight outings. Wood (4-2) blew his fifth save in 27 tries.
"I was just looking for a pitch to drive up the middle," Ankiel said. "Kerry Wood is tough; he throws hard."
The Cardinals had little problems against one of the game's top closers. Ryan Ludwick and Yadier Molina drew walks to begin the rally and Adam Kennedy hit a double to right to cut the deficit to 4-3. Wood appeared set to wriggle out of a bases-loaded no-out jam before Ankiel came to the plate with two outs.
"We were one pitch away from getting out of it," Wood said. "But it seems to always be the case when you're in that role."
St. Louis reliever Kyle McClellan (1-3) picked up his first major league victory with two perfect innings of relief.
St. Louis rallied to tie the game in the sixth against starter Ted Lilly. Ankiel led off the inning with his 18th homer. He hit a 1-2 pitch over the wall in right-center. The home run pushed Ankiel into a tie with Albert Pujols for the team lead.
Pujols followed Ankiel's blast with a double into left-center. One out later, Ryan Ludwick hit a double down the line in left to score Pujols.
Chicago infielder Aramis Ramirez broke a 2-2 tie by hitting a 2-0 pitch from reliever Ryan Franklin over the wall in left-center field for his 15th homer of the season in front of 46,865 fans, a new record for the three-year-old Busch Stadium.
Chicago starter Ted Lilly, who was unbeaten in his five previous starts, allowed just two runs in six innings. He has given up just six runs in his last four road starts.
St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse gave up two runs in seven innings. He struck out six and walked two. Molina kept his 12-game hitting streak alive with a sixth-inning infield single.
- Derrek Lee had three hits for the Cubs. He's hitting .476 over his last five games.
- St. Louis third baseman Troy Glaus is 0-for-20 against Chicago this season.