By Rob Rains

One of the themes of the disappointing 2016 season for the Cardinals was their poor defense, not always measured in errors but also in “non plays.”

They had another one in the season-opener Sunday night against the Cubs, which cost Carlos Martinez a win, but Randal Grichuk made certain it didn’t cost the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were two outs away from a 3-0 win over the Cubs at Busch Stadium when Matt Carpenter failed to get an out on a grounder to first because of his indecision on whether to throw to second or step on first. That let the tying run come to the plate, and Willson Contreras promptly tied the game with a three-run homer off Seung Hwan Oh.

In the bottom of the ninth, however, Grichuk came up with two outs and the bases
loaded and hit a ball to the wall in left center to win the game. The hit was ruled a single because he was mobbed by his teammates before he could get to second base.

“It’s a night I won’t forget,” said Grichuk, who had increased the Cardinals lead from 1-0 to 3-0 with a home run into the Cardinals bullpen in the eighth.

“It was the first opening day game I did something.”

It was the second walk-off hit of Grichuk’s career and also marked the first walk-off win on opening day for the Cardinals since 1995 against the Phillies.

Here is how the game broke down:

At the plate:
Grichuk’s hit was the first of the game for the Cardinals with a runner in scoring position, having gone 0-for-11 to that point in the game … Aledmys Diaz and Yadier Molina also had two hits for the Cardinals, and Diaz also stole two bases … The first Cardinals run scored in the third on a sacrifice fly by Carpenter … The winning rally in the ninth began with a pinch-hit double by Jose Martinez. After Molina was intentionally walked – the first non-pitch intentional walk in the majors – Stephen Piscotty struck out and Kolten Wong drew an unintentional walk to load the bases for Grichuk … The Cardinals left 14 runners on base.

On the mound:
The Cubs rally spoiled a terrific start by Martinez, at 25 the youngest pitcher to start on opening day for the Cardinals since Joe Magrane was a year younger in 1989. He gave up hits to two of the first three hitters he faced, but then got a double play to end the first and went on to retire 17 of the next 18 hitters. He left with two runners on and one out in the eighth, but Seung Hwan Oh got out of the jam … Martinez finished with 10 strikeouts and no walks and became only the second pitcher in franchise history with 10 or more strikeouts on opening day. The other was Bob Gibson who did it three times, the last coming in 1975 when he had 12 strikeouts. “I’ve never been so focused,” Martinez said through an interpreter. … Said manager Mike Matheny, “Carlos was impressive. He had control of the game. It was a big day for him and he responded.” … Oh got credit for the win after blowing the save in the top of the ninth. Three of the six homers Oh has allowed since joining the Cardinals have come against the Cubs; it was the second by Contreras.

Key stat:
The win allowed the Cardinals to do something they never did in 2016 – spend at least one day in first place.

Of note:
Jedd Gyorko got the start at second base in place of Kolten Wong with lefthander Jon Lester on the mound for the Cubs. He went 0-for-2 before leaving the game … Jhonny Peralta started in the cleanup spot and was 1-for-4, striking out in his first three at-bats … The only two starters who were in the same position in the opening day lineup for last year’s opener were Piscotty and Molina. Molina made his 13th consecutive start. The only two players to start in more consecutive openers for the Cardinals are Stan Musial (18) and Lou Brock (15) … It’s the first time the Cardinals have opened the season with a win at home since 2003.

Looking ahead:
The two teams will take Monday off before resuming the three-game series on Tuesday night. Adam Wainwright will get the start against Jake Arrieta.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains