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Cubs 8, Diamondbacks 3: Rising to the occasion

The Cubs haven’t done very well historically at Chase Field. Maybe that’s beginning to change.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Still trying to process the loss to injury to Willson Contreras, the Cubs began their game Friday in Phoenix knowing that the Cardinals were ahead and they’d need to win to stay alone in first place.

The headline tells the story. The Cubs got solid pitching, timely hitting and a home run from Willson’s replacement in the lineup and kept their hold on first place in the N.L. Central with an 8-3 win over the Diamondbacks.

They didn’t waste any time beginning the scoring, either. D-backs starter Taijuan Walker allowed a couple of singles in the first inning and then began walking Cubs hitters. Kyle Schwarber walked to load the bases, and Alex Avila then drew a walk that forced in the Cubs’ first run of the night. Walker then threw a pitch that got away from catcher Chris Herrmann for a passed ball (tough call on Herrmann, the ball bounced in and could have been called a wild pitch), and the Cubs had a 2-0 lead before John Lackey took the mound.

Lackey did not start out well. He walked two of the first three hitters he faced, and up stepped Cub-killer Paul Goldschmidt. Every Cubs fan was thinking “Uh oh” seeing that, and Lackey ran the count to 3-0 against him.

Then things turned. Lackey got two quick strikes and Goldschmidt hit a bouncer right to Javier Baez, who started an inning-ending double play.

That seemed to energize Lackey. He allowed just two more baserunners through the fourth inning. The Cubs stretched their lead to 3-0 when Jon Jay was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a single by Kris Bryant.

Lackey was one out away from getting out of the fifth when, with a runner on base, David Peralta homered to make it 3-2.

The Cubs, however, got those runs right back in the sixth. Schwarber hit a ball that I think escaped Chase Field and is still bouncing down a street somewhere in Phoenix:

That ball: CRUSHED!

Five pitches later, the Cubs had their two-run lead back:

That ball: Also crushed!

It just wouldn’t be a Cubs/Diamondbacks game without a homer by Goldschmidt, and his one-out blast in the bottom of the sixth ended Lackey’s night. Despite not finishing the sixth inning, I thought Lackey threw very, very well. He made just two mistakes, the homers by Peralta and Goldschmidt, but otherwise kept his team in the game. And you could tell he wasn’t happy when Joe Maddon came to get him, holding his glove over his mouth when he walked off the mound so that lip-readers couldn’t see what he was muttering to himself.

Carl Edwards Jr. relieved Lackey and promptly walked the first batter he faced, bringing more thoughts of “Uh oh.”

But CJ got Daniel Descalso to hit into an inning-ending double play, and on the game went to the seventh. Justin Wilson took over on the mound and had yet another shaky outing, walking the first batter he faced (seeing a theme here?) and allowing a one-out single, which prompted Joe to replace him with Brian Duensing, who got one out on a force play before Pedro Strop entered to complete the inning with a harmless fly to center.

Wilson threw only seven strikes in 17 pitches. I’m starting to get concerned about him.

In the eighth, the Cubs put the game away. Albert Almora Jr. singled to lead off the inning, but the next two batters were routine outs, one a sac bunt by Avila. About that Almora hit:

Then the Cubs put together one of their better two-out rallies of the year. Baez singled in Almora. The next batter was Ian Happ and you really have to watch this for yourself [VIDEO].

Javy ran through a stop sign at third, hesitated briefly, then scored from first on what was essentially a single for Happ (who advanced to second on the throw in). Javy was flying around the bases:

Jay singled in Happ and the Cubs had a three-run inning and a five-run lead.

Strop threw a 1-2-3 eighth and Mike Montgomery a 1-2-3 ninth and the Cubs had a well-earned victory and did indeed hold first place by a game over the Cardinals, who defeated the Braves Friday evening. The Brewers lost to the Reds and the Pirates beat the Blue Jays, so those teams are now tied for third place, three games out.

The Cubs haven’t done well historically at Chase Field, but they have now won four of their last five games there dating back to last season.

A couple more notes from this one: Kris Bryant had three hits and a walk. He’s homered just twice in his last 27 games, but Len & JD seemed convinced he might be ready to go on a power run. Overall in that span he’s hitting well, .324/.393/.451, just without home-run power. Let’s hope it’s time for one of KB’s home-run streaks.

More fun facts:

Try not to pay too much attention to the BA in that slash line, or the strikeouts. The rest of those numbers are very good.

The Cubs evened up their record on this road trip at 2-2, which is now also their record in the season series vs. the Diamondbacks. They’ll go for a series win Saturday evening at 7:10 p.m. CT. Jon Lester takes the mound for the Cubs and Patrick Corbin, who the Cubs absolutely pounded August 1 at Wrigley Field, will go for Arizona.