After a tough extra-inning loss in Arizona in the first game of this series, the Cubs evened it up by winning behind the big bat of Anthony Rizzo.
The win brought the Cubs to within 2½ games of the first-place Cardinals with a record of 24-18. They would not be as close to first place until they won the last game of the season to finish three games out.
Cubs starting pitching and defense was a bit shaky Saturday night in the desert, so thank heavens for Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo hit a three-run homer -- the first time he had hit more than a two-run homer since he hit a grand slam September 16, 2012 -- and drove in six, tying a career high and leading the Cubs to a 9-6 win over the Diamondbacks.
Rizzo just missed breaking that career high, too, as his high fly ball to left field with the bases loaded in the fifth inning nearly cleared the wall for a slam. On the telecast, Len Kasper thought it had cleared the wall, too. It bounced off a portion of the pads just below the yellow line and skittered along the outside edge of the bullpen fence while three Cubs runners scored, erasing a 2-1 D'backs lead. The Cubs had just scored that first run when Kris Bryant was hit by a Rubby De La Rosa pitch with the bases loaded.
That was just about the time I was beginning to wonder whether the lesser pitchers the Cubs had faced the last three days had a hex on them, or something. They couldn't score much off Odrisamer Despaigne or Josh Collmenter the previous two days, and De La Rosa had them in thrall for the first four innings. But they loaded the bases on two singles and a walk sandwiched around a Jake Arrieta strikeout. Arrieta had been up there trying to bunt, trailing 2-0, and failed. While Joe Maddon doesn't particularly care for the sac bunt, it would be nice if Cubs pitchers could do it when the situation was appropriate. No Cubs pitcher has made a successful sac attempt this year.
Anyway, it all worked out in a good fifth inning, but Arrieta and the Cubs gave it right back in the bottom of the inning, in part by what looked like a miscommunication between Starlin Castro and Addison Russell on what could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead, both runners were safe as Russell dropped an attempted relay throw. He got the error, but it didn't look like Castro made the right play, either. (NOTE! Not blaming Castro!) The D'backs loaded the bases and David Peralta cleared them with a double, making it 5-4 Arizona.
The D'backs extended that to 6-4 in the next inning, the last for Arrieta, who wound up with a quality start because those three fifth-inning runs were unearned.
That's when the Cubs bullpen did its job. There was even an Edwin Jackson sighting! He threw an uneventful 1-2-3 seventh and in the eighth, Jorge Soler doubled in two runs after Castro singled and Miguel Montero was hit by a pitch. (Two HBP, two runs Saturday evening.) For Soler, they were his first RBI in eight games and though his numbers appear somewhat pedestrian at .273/.337/.400 and his 60 strikeouts lead the National League, he's hanging in there. I'm looking for him to go on a hot streak soon.
James Russell and Jason Motte combined for a scoreless eighth and that's when Rizzo hit his three-run bomb, with one of the runs unearned because Bryant had reached on an error just beforee the blast. Pedro Strop posted his first save of the season (and just the seventh of his career) filling in for Hector Rondon, who was likely deemed unavailable by Maddon after throwing 20 pitches in Friday night's disaster.
Overall, the Cubs didn't look very good Saturday night. That's when a strong performance like Rizzo's can save a team. He and Bryant are now tied for the team lead in RBI with 29, which is also eighth in the National League. Rizzo's OBP of .444 ranks second to Bryce Harper and his OPS of 1.030 is fourth. Bryant, incidentally, still ranks high in OBP -- seventh at .401. When's the last time you can remember a Cubs team with two players in the starting lineup with an OBP over .400? Me, either.
I seem to be writing this every series, but once again the Cubs have a chance to win a three-game set, and if they can do so they'll also come home with yet another winning road trip, and go seven games over .500 for the first time since September 30, 2009. Jason Hammel goes for the Cubs; Jeremy Hellickson for the D'backs. Game time is 3:10 CT -- thank heavens, no more staying up till midnight for West Coast games until August.