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Cubs 3, Rockies 2: Hello, first place

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The Cubs won their fifth in a row and moved into the top spot in the N.L. Central.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

What a strange little game, the Cubs’ 3-2 win over the Rockies that put them in first place alone for the first time in 2018.

Javier Baez’s usually sparkling defense wasn’t. The Cubs got only four baserunners past first base, but three of them scored.

And the Rockies took the lead in the fifth and might have scored more, if not for an “assist” from a gameday employee stationed down the left field line whose job is to retrieve foul balls.

I’ll get back to that in a bit. Jon Lester began this game pitching just about as well as the rest of the rotation had done over the weekend. He hit Charlie Blackmon and walked Nolan Arenado in the first, but got out of that inning scoreless.

In the bottom of the second, Ben Zobrist hit an odd ground-rule double that bounced off Arenado and into the seats [VIDEO] with one out. Addison Russell, whose bat has heated up with the weather, was next:

Russell’s single made it 1-0 Cubs.

That’s how it stayed until the fifth, helped in part by yet another highlight-reel catch by Albert Almora Jr. off Trevor Story leading off the fourth:

In the top of the fifth, Noel Cuevas bunted for a hit and Lester walked Pat Valaika. Rockies pitcher Kyle Freeland was next, and everyone knew what he was going to do. Anthony Rizzo stationed himself almost on top of the batter’s box awaiting Freeland’s bunt. He bunted, Willson Contreras threw to Javy covering first... and Javy dropped the ball.

During Freeland’s at-bat, though, Contreras picked Cuevas off second base:

That would turn out to be very, very important. Ian Desmond flied to center for the second out. Charlie Blackmon singled in Valaika to tie the game.

That brought up Arenado, who smacked a ball down the left-field line.

No, gameday person. You’re supposed to get out of the way of those, not touch them unless you’re absolutely certain they’re foul. Had that ball not been touched, Blackmon very likely would have scored and the Rockies would have had a 3-1 lead. Instead, it was 2-1, and Lester struck out Chris Iannetta to end the inning.

The Cubs got a run right back in the bottom of the frame. Russell led off with a single and Ian Happ blooped a single into short center. Lester, usually a good bunter, squared to sacrifice and popped his bunt up foul for an out. Almora was next:

AA’s single tied the game and put Happ in scoring position, but Baez hit into an inning-ending double play.

Lester, who wound up having to throw quite a few extra pitches in the fifth, got into trouble in the sixth, again partly because of an error. With one out and a runner on first, Kris Bryant booted a grounder, putting runners on first and second. Bud Black let Freeland bat for himself and Lester struck him out. That was it, though, for Lester, as Joe Maddon called on righthander Luke Farrell to pitch to Desmond. Farrell got Desmond to ground to Bryant, who stepped on third to end the Rox threat.

In the bottom of the inning, Bryant led off with a triple, with the ball bouncing far enough off the wall in left-center field for him to take third. Anthony Rizzo’s RBI groundout made it 3-2 Cubs.

And then it was up to the bullpen, because Bryant’s hit represented the last Cubs hit of the game. Nine of the final 10 Cubs hitters were retired, the exception a two-out walk drawn by Bryant in the eighth.

Farrell threw a 1-2-3 seventh. So far, Farrell’s shown good velocity (he hit 94 a few times) and has produced 3⅓ innings of scoreless relief, striking out seven of the 12 batters he faced. He might go back to Iowa when Eddie Butler is ready to come off the disabled list, but he’s surely shown he can fit right in with this solid bullpen. For whatever this is worth, Farrell also registered his first big-league win when the Cubs took the lead in the sixth and kept it the rest of the way.

Pedro Strop threw a scoreless eighth, helped out by a double play after a leadoff single, and also this outstanding play from Bryant and Rizzo to end the inning:

The Rockies challenged the “out” call at first base, but it was pretty obvious that Rizzo had the ball in his glove before Cuevas’ foot came down, and it was ruled “call confirmed.”

Strop came out for the ninth, with no Brandon Morrow warming up. Morrow threw in three of the four games against the Brewers over the weekend, so Joe obviously wanted to give him an extra day. When the Rockies sent David Dahl up to bat for Pat Valaika, Joe called on Brian Duensing. Duensing struck out Dahl, and remained in the game to face another PH, Carlos Gonzalez. CarGo singled off Duensing, and thus it was up to Steve Cishek to nail things down. Ryan McMahon ran for CarGo.

Desmond hit a comebacker. Cishek threw to Russell covering second. The call was “safe.”

Joe had lost his challenge in the first inning, so he asked for a crew chief review:

Again, this one was pretty obvious — Russell’s foot was clearly still on the base when the ball was in his glove — and the Cubs had the second out of the inning.

Cishek walked Blackmon. Nothing’s ever easy. But then he struck out Arenado for his first save as a Cub, and the Cubs extended their winning streak to five.

There was good Cubs defense, and bad Cubs defense, and decent Cubs hitting (2-for-9 with RISP) and bad Cubs hitting (10 men left on base). And an “assist” to this guy:

Al Yellon

All of that, plus the Pirates’ loss to the Nationals, put the Cubs back in first place alone for the first time in 2018. A few fun facts about this win:

And all of this was accomplished on an 80-degree night. Just one day after another frigid afternoon, 46 degrees on Sunday, summer burst out in Chicago, and not a moment too soon. Sure, we’ll probably have more coolish weather before the warmth takes hold to stay this year, but the warm weather was certainly welcome. And even with the wind blowing straight out to center field at 12 miles per hour, no baseballs left the yard during this contest.

More windy and warm weather is expected for Tuesday’s game. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and Jon Gray for the Rockies. Game time is 7:05 p.m. CT and TV coverage tonight is via WGN.