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Cubs 5, Giants 3: The excitement of Javier Baez

And Jake Arrieta put together another fine start to help lead the Cubs to victory.

Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

It’s the most exciting play in baseball.

Of course, I’m talking about an inside-the-park home run. Things have to go just right, or bounce just right, for even a fast baserunner to accomplish that feat.

It was a bounce that accomplished this for Javier Baez in the second inning Monday night in San Francisco:

As soon as Javy’s ball hit off the wall and caromed toward the right-field corner away from Carlos Moncrief, I knew he had a chance for an inside-the-parker. Jason Heyward scored ahead of Javy, whose head-first slide just beat the throw to Buster Posey.

Baez’s 16th home run of the year was the Cubs’ first inside-the-park homer since Anthony Rizzo did it June 29, 2016 in Cincinnati, and along with yet another solid start from Jake Arrieta along with good relief work, the Cubs opened their road trip on a good note with a 5-3 win over the Giants.

The Cubs extended their lead to 3-0 in the third thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Jon Jay. Jay led off the inning with a single, and advanced to second on a wild pitch that didn’t get too far away from Posey. He went to third on a medium-deep fly ball to center from Rizzo, and scored on a second wild pitch by Giants starter Matt Moore.

Jay’s fun trips around the bases continued in the fifth. He led off with another single and went to second on yet another wild pitch by Moore [VIDEO], his third of the game.

Rizzo singled in Jay to make it 4-0, and then stole second. Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ are in a titanic struggle to see who can be the first among them to double digits in steals this year. All three have seven. The Cubs rank 13th in the National League with 42 steals as a team.

Anyway, Rizzo’s swipe helped produce another run. Ben Zobrist followed with a walk, which would have put Rizzo on second anyway, where Albert Almora Jr. singled him in to give the Cubs a five-run lead.

While all this was going on, Jake Arrieta was putting together yet another fine start, with a low pitch count. The Giants scored a pair off him in the sixth when rookie Ryder Jones hit his first big-league homer with a runner on, and in the seventh a rare fielding error by Heyward helped the Giants close to within 5-3. At that point, Joe Maddon brought in Pedro Strop to relieve Jake, who threw only 91 pitches in getting to one out in the seventh.

After a very difficult start to his season, here are Jake’s numbers since July 1: seven starts, 45⅓ innings, 2.18 ERA, 0.904 WHIP, .180 opponents’ batting average. Overall he seems on target to at least replicate his 2016 season.

Strop, Brian Duensing and Wade Davis (24th save) combined for 2⅔ innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one baserunner. That was a one-out walk by Davis in the ninth, but he immediately made up for that by getting Denard Span to hit into a game-ending double play on his next pitch.

It’s a symbol of how far the Giants have fallen that Matt Cain, once the ace of San Francisco’s staff, has been relegated to mop-up relief. He threw the last three innings without giving up any further Cubs runs.

Good news out of Minneapolis: The Twins came from behind in the seventh inning to defeat the Brewers 5-4 in the first game of their four-game, two-city series, so the Cubs picked up a full game on Milwaukee and lead the N.L. Central by 1½ games. The teams are even at 59 wins each; the Cubs have a three-game lead in the loss column. And the Cubs improved to 16-7 since the All-Star break and have a +41 run differential in those 23 games.

Incidentally, check out how the Twins scored the winning run against the Brewers:

The win over the Giants was satisfying and had most of the elements that have led the Cubs to that post-break record: solid starting pitching, timely hitting and good relief work.

They’ll try to make it two in a row over the Giants Tuesday night. Jose Quintana goes for the Cubs and Ty Blach for the Giants.