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Cubs 5, Giants 1: A basketful of home runs

The Cubs went deep on old friend Jeff Samardzija and took the series.

Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way first thing, before talking about the rest of the Cubs’ 5-1 win over the Giants Thursday afternoon.

The ball Kris Bryant hit for his first-inning home run off Jeff Samardzija was not interfered with. Here’s video proof.

You can see a fan reaching over the wall to catch it, but it would have landed in the basket otherwise. There’s almost no way anyone could reach over that basket. It stretches out a lot farther than it appears on TV.

The Giants lodged no protest nor did they ask for a video review, so they knew it was legit.

Bryant’s homer tied the game, because Eddie Butler had allowed doubles to two of the first three hitters he faced, sandwiched around a long fly ball to right, and it was “Uh-oh, here we go again” time.

Or so we thought. Butler settled down after the second double, retiring the next nine hitters he faced, and allowed just two more hits and a couple of walks. He was helped by some nice defense by Ian Happ in center field. Happ made a diving catch of a sinking line drive in the third [VIDEO].

He made another nice grab in the sixth after Butler had departed the game. Butler’s outing was very good and he certainly rates another one. He’s now had two good outings out of three and I’m willing to say that the bad one was caused in large part by the miserable weather conditions last Friday.

Meanwhile, Samardzija was mowing down Cubs hitters after Bryant’s homer. He retired 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced. And then Jason Heyward led off the fifth inning [VIDEO].

Another basket shot, so let’s say, for today at least: Thank heavens for outfield baskets at Wrigley! If you’re not familiar with the history of the baskets, there was a time during the late 1960s when bleacher fans used to walk along the top of the bleacher wall, which was flat at the time. Some even jumped on the field. After the Cubs left town for a road trip on April 27, 1970, the Cubs put a concrete inverted “V” form on the top of the wall so that fans could no longer walk on it, and installed the basket. It reaches out farther than the length of anyone’s arm — you’d have to almost climb into it to reach over it.

It’s served its purpose. Very few fans have attempted to jump onto the field since then. In the late 1990s I saw someone do it and break both his ankles. Last year, near the end of a long rain delay, a man jumped over the basket and onto the field and lay motionless for some time before being transported to a hospital by ambulance. (He walked out under his own power the next day.)

Just don’t do this. Not a good idea.

The Cubs obviously benefitted from the basket Thursday, a gloriously sunny afternoon with the wind blowing in at 16 miles per hour. The sunshine was welcome, as were the home runs. Then Ben Zobrist hit one that actually got a few rows into the seats in the sixth [VIDEO].

That made it 3-1 Cubs, and Butler had departed for Mike Montgomery after throwing only 69 pitches. Butler, it appeared, could have gone longer, but it seemed as if Joe Maddon had the “piggyback” idea for this game and it worked. Montgomery, who often runs up large pitch counts and walks too many guys, was excellent finishing up the game, throwing only 41 pitches (25 strikes) in four innings. He walked one and allowed one single (that, with two out in the ninth) and recorded eight outs on ground balls. That was his first regular-season save. You surely remember his only other save, from World Series Game 7.

Montgomery was helped out by a magnificent play by Javier Baez:

I daresay no other shortstop in the major leagues could have made that play. Cool stats on Baez’s throw:

Then the Cubs put the game away in the bottom of the eighth when, with the bases loaded, they plated two runs on a wild pitch and a throwing error on Buster Posey [VIDEO].

Four-inning saves are rare. Montgomery’s is the first in the major leagues this year, and there were only two all of last year and two in 2015. In the seven years 2010-16, there have been just 13, so MLB as a whole averages about two per season. And if you think it’s been a while since any Cubs pitcher has had one, you are correct:

You really couldn’t ask for a better day at the ballpark. The rain and cold finally ended in Chicago and it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid-60s, and the Cubs got excellent pitching and timely hitting. Finally, this team is starting to resemble the 2016 version, which seemed to be able to go onto the field and win at will. They went 7-2 on the just-ended homestand, an excellent result, and if the Brewers and Cardinals lose their Thursday evening affairs, the Cubs would begin their West Coast road trip in first place in the N.L. Central. At worst they’ll be just half a game out of the top spot.

And Maddon has made this the first “theme” road trip of 2017, riffing off the movie “Anchorman”:

Those guys will have fun on this flight and, with the quick game Thursday (two hours, 33 minutes) they won’t get in to Los Angeles too late tonight.

Friday begins a three-game set at Dodger Stadium. Jake Arrieta will go for the Cubs and Alex Wood for the Dodgers.