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2016 Cubs Victories Revisited, September 4: Cubs 3, Giants 2

At last, Jason Heyward had a big day.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Heyward struggled all year, but in this game, he was the hitting hero after making a key error early in the game. You can see the joy in his face in the photo at the top of this recap.

The Cubs were 88-48 after this win, and led the N.L. Central by 16½ games. Their magic number to clinch the division dropped to 11.

I can’t tell you how happy I am for Jason Heyward, after all his struggles this season and especially after his error -- just the second he’s made all season — helped lead to an unearned run for the Giants in the second inning of Sunday’s marathon.

Heyward came through three times at the plate, driving in all three Cubs runs: an RBI single in the fourth, a game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning and a little floater just past Brandon Crawford into center field for a game-winner in the 13th, and the Cubs had a 3-2 win over the Giants and yet another series victory. You can see the happiness and relief in his expression in the photo above. They weren’t even the hardest-hit balls he had all day -- a line-drive out to center in the 11th was probably his best hit of the day — but he wound up with his first three-hit game since before the All-Star break.

Of course you want to watch that hit again. Here it is:

And here’s the game-tying hit from the ninth inning:

This win, the sixth in seven games on the homestand, won the series from the Giants and also gave them the season series against the visitors from San Francisco, four games to three.

Lots of things happened in this one, so let’s start at the beginning. John Lackey, in his return from the disabled list, allowed an unearned run on Heyward’s dropped fly ball and a pair of infield outs. Including those outs, he retired 10 in a row before Eduardo Nunez got the Giants’ first hit with one out in the fifth, a double. He stole third and scored on a squeeze bunt, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead, after Heyward’s first hit of the day had driven in Anthony Rizzo in the fourth. Rizzo had singled and Ben Zobrist walked. Addison Russell hit into a double play, advancing Rizzo to third, before Heyward’s hit.

And 2-1 it stayed, this game played just as tightly in hitting and scoring as the previous three against a good Giants team. Zobrist got to second with two out after he forced Rizzo in the sixth, but was stranded. Johnny Cueto allowed only five hits to the Cubs over seven innings, and Bruce Bochy’s bullpen allowed a single in the eighth, but nothing more.

That set up Heyward’s heroics in the ninth. Russell doubled and was wild-pitched to third, where Heyward bounced the game-tying single just under Joe Panik’s glove. Willson Contreras attempted a sacrifice, but Heyward was forced. With two out, pinch-hitter Jorge Soler walked, but Dexter Fowler flied to the warning track to send the game into extras.

The Cubs could have possibly won it in the 10th, but with Zobrist on second and two out, Russell was called out on strikes on a 3-2 pitch.

Oh, come now, Phil Cuzzi, that wasn’t a strike:

Who knows whether the Cubs would have won the game there, but they should have had runners on first and second with two out and Heyward at the plate.

All’s well that ends well, but really, MLB... that’s pretty ridiculous.

The Cubs were being careful with Lackey coming off the DL, rightfully so, and 76 pitches was his limit. Still, he looked just fine and with no arm issues. With an off day this week and the Cubs seemingly committed to the six-man rotation, Lackey won’t go again till (most likely) next Sunday in Houston. And this is where I tell you what an outstanding job Joe Maddon’s bullpen did after Lackey departed.

Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith, Travis Wood, Carl Edwards Jr., Aroldis Chapman (two innings!), Justin Grimm and Trevor Cahill threw eight shutout innings, allowing just three singles and two walks, with 10 strikeouts. That’s just fantastic. Smith, in particular, since his return from the DL, has shown us exactly why the Cubs traded for him. Chapman did a nice job getting himself out of a jam of his own creation (walk, single) in the 11th with a pair of strikeouts. Grimm was in a similar jam and struck out a pair before Contreras threw out Gorkys Hernandez trying to steal to end the 12th, with one of Javier Baez’ patented quick swipe tags providing the out. Cahill got three easy ground balls for a 1-2-3 13th.

And then came the winning rally, a single to left by Rizzo, who advanced to second on a grounder to first by Zobrist, and stayed at second. (Thank you!) Russell was intentionally walked, setting up Heyward’s game-winner. Here’s a postgame interview with Sunday’s hero.

As I said in the lede, I’m really, really happy for Heyward, who’s hit very well since his benching a couple of weeks ago at Colorado. Since then — including Sunday’s game — Heyward is hitting .308/.321/.423 (16-for-52) with three doubles, a home run and nine RBI. Those numbers are very, very close to career norms for Heyward and if he can keep that up through the rest of September and October, that’s a huge boost for the offense.

Now, a few Joe Maddon thoughts on this one:

And, a couple of notes on the game and the series:

I could go on all night on this, but you get the idea. The win dropped the Cubs’ magic number to clinch the N.L. Central to 11 (as the Cardinals also won), and the magic number to clinch the N.L.’s best record is now 18, pending tonight’s Nationals/Mets game in New York.

The Cubs move back to 40 games over .500 at 88-48; thus if they just play .500 the rest of the year they’ll win 101 games, but I think they’ll do better. They improved their home record to 51-20. There are 10 games remaining at Wrigley. To break the franchise record for Wrigley wins in a season (55, set in 2008) they must go at least 6-4 on the homestand. If they go 8-2 they’d break the all-time franchise record for home wins in a season (58, set in 1910).

This team, man, this team. Every day, new heroes, every day, new excitement. This was the sixth game the Cubs have won this year when they entered the ninth inning trailing — that’s a lot.

And now, to the road for nine games, during which the division clinching celebration will likely occur, perhaps next weekend in Houston, or perhaps more deliciously, in St. Louis next week. The Cardinals have clinched playoff spots at Wrigley. Time to pay them back, I’d say.